Thursday, May 2, 2013

Wakefield Fire

Wakefield War Zone
Fire Rips Through Businesses

Could Lax Rules and Wooden Structures Been the Cause of Blaze?

By Dan Gesslein

BRONX, NEW YORK, May 2- As the embers from an early morning Wakefield fire continue to smolder, merchants and residents are trying to piece together how it happened and how to rebuild.

“It looks like a war zone,” said Rev. Richard Gorman, Chairman of Community Board 12 of the damage along White Plains Road. 

Seven stores and apartment buildings as well as a mosque have been gutted by the fire that tore through the wooden structures of East 225th Street. Some 25 to 30 have been displaced by the blaze.

A meeting for merchants affected by the fire will be held at 8 a.m. tomorrow at Community Board 12.

The landlord is helping to relocate his tenants who have been displaced. In the coming days Gorman said civic leaders will work to keep the merchants in the community and help them rebuild their businesses.

“It’s going to have a huge impact. It wiped out a whole of stores,” said Councilman Andy King.

Seven businesses have been impacted including a mosque, a deli, laundromat, salon and check cashing. Fire officials are still assessing the neighboring apartment building to see if residents can return.

King, who sits on the small business committee of the NY City Council, said his office has been reaching out to other businesses in the community who can lend a hand. One of the businesses gutted by the fire is a salon. King’s office has arranged for a nearby salon to have the beauticians work out of there.

They are also working on finding space for merchants to reopen their stores. One thing King stressed was that the displaced merchants will pay market rate rents.

“We’re not going to take advantage of these merchants.”

King has already worked out a plan in which members of the mosque can have services in another house of worship in the community.

The fast moving fire started in a private garage behind the White Plains Road stores. It is unclear if the fire was a result of someone performing car repairs but Gorman said such sights are common in the area. Residents frequently work on cars, sometimes as a business and others as personal repair on the street and in the residential garages in the area.

“This points to a problem of people working on cars out of their own garage,” Gorman said.

News columnist Mary Lauro has frequently documented the problem of illegally converted apartments and people performing tasks in a residential area that they should not be. The fear that in a community of connected wooden buildings a fire could cause serious damage. 

Gorman pointed to an example of a man cooking jerk chicken on an open flame out of the back of a truck. This makeshift food truck posed a potential fire risk since the flames would rise out of the back of the truck near other cars on the street.

“You can’t do that here. People are living closer together and there are things like gas and power lines to worry about,” Gorman said. “The rules are not here to harm but to protect people.”

Gorman said the administration should take notice of how fast the wood framed stores went up in flames. Ladder 39 was two blocks away from the fire and yet the row of stores still were gutted. 

The FDNY moved Ladder 39 out of Woodlawn and up the road from the community of wood-framed houses as a cost saving measure. Gorman fears a fire would be able to spread throughout Woodlawn by the time firefighters arrive.

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