Site of Gifford Avenue fire now secure

Residents of Gifford Avenue are now breathing a sigh of relief after a house that burned several weeks ago is now secured.

Neighbors of the house at 2717 Gifford Avenue had been concerned since a massive fire claimed the life of a 60-year-old during the early morning hours of Saturday, November 13. The woman became trapped in her basement apartment as the blaze raged out-of-control for approximately two hours.

According to neighbors, it was not until Wednesday, November 24 that the house was finally sealed and secured by the mortgage holder, GMAC.

Councilman Jimmy Vacca was contacted after neighbors became alarmed that the fire-gutted house was left open to the elements, as it was now uninhabitable. One neighbor even noticed that garbage was being dumped near the front of the house three days after the fire.

“I went to the scene of the fire, and when you see something like that the first thing that you want to do when the fire is extinguished is to make the building safe,” Vacca said. “In order to make the building safe, you have to make sure that it is not vandalized and prevent anyone from going in there, where they could be hurt.”

Vacca said that in general, vacant buildings areprone to structural problems which can make occupancy by anyone who may trespass extremely unsafe. Vacca called on the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to find the owner and convince him or her do what needed to be done to secure the building.

HPD got in touch with GMAC, the mortgage holder, after learning the building was in the process of foreclosure. HPD spokesman Eric Bederman said GMAC agreed to secure the building after some discussion. HPD had been prepared to do the job themselves if it had not been secured by the end of the week, Bederman said.

For Kevin Heckman, a resident of the block, getting the building secured was a top priority almost as soon as the final flames were extinguished. The fire had already claimed the life of Johanna Parliament and injured two firefighters and three other civilians.

“Besides the fact that the vacant house is an eyesore, it was very unsafe,” Heckman said. “There were large glass shards hanging from the window frames. Anyone could have easily have gained access to the house by climbing through a window.”

Heckman had been concerned that the open house could become a hangout or a home to squatters. It is now sealed and bolted tight.

Heckman thanked Vacca’s office for helping to expedite the sealing of the house. He said that he hopes the house is rehabilitated quickly.

“The building has got to be secured,” said another neighbor, who did not wish to be identified. “It cannot remain open to the elements.”

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