Towering inferno engulfs building

Fire engulfed the sixth floor and destroyed much of the fifth floor at 1988 Newbold Avenue near Parkchester at approximately 1:10 a.m. on Thursday, July 17. - Photo by Kevin Heckman

An apartment building near Parkchester was the scene of a towering inferno, which forced residents to flee with their lives and little else in the middle of the night.

Large flames and much smoke flew out of the sixth floor of the building at 1988 Newbold Avenue off of the Cross Bronx Expressway at around 1:15 a.m. on Thursday, July 17.

The cause of the four-alarm fire, which destroyed all of the sixth and much of the fifth floor of the building, is still under investigation. Initial reports from firefighters at the scene indicated that two teenagers and a young girl had been left home alone in the apartment on the right side of the building where the fire broke out.

“I heard screaming, and someone yelling to ‘get out of the building,’” said Ron Nieves, whose apartment was directly below where the fire began. “Then I saw fire overhead. I took a few things, and got my wife out of the building. It happened in two minutes.”

Nieves said that neighbors from both the building and from others nearby knocked on most of the apartment doors, warning those who might have been asleep to vacate the building. Within 10 minutes, said Nieves, the whole sixth floor was ablaze. All of the contents of his apartment were destroyed.  

“It was amazing because it seemed like someone was knocking on every door,” Nieves, a musician who was up late practicing when the fire broke out, continued. “I was beside myself, as was everyone else, but everyone got out of the building calmly. They understood it was an emergency. We always hear about violence, but when it comes down to it, there are people who really care.”

The American Red Cross and Salvation Army were called in to assist many residents of the building who were temporarily displaced. According to the Red Cross, 118 people from the building — 97 adults and 21 children – were assisted with temporary emergency aid for food, clothing, and basic necessities.

In total, 12 households of 35 adults and 5 children have been provided with temporary housing.

A meeting was held outside the apartment house with building management and City agencies to discuss the reoccupation of the damaged apartments on Tuesday, July 22.

“A lot of people are out of their apartments,” said Susan Viera, one of the displaced tenants. “I am living with relatives right now, and am very uncomfortable with the arrangement.”

While some at the meeting were dissatisfied with what had happened, and said they were leaving the building for good, others want to return.

“The say they are going to repair the building, but they need to get clearance for the gas and electric – there is a lot of red tape, and we have to go through this procedure,” said Lai Akabashorun, who lived with his family on the sixth floor. “They also have to inspect every apartment to see if it is ok and habitable.”

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