Tenants Homeless after East NY Blaze

Home Brooklyn Life Tenants Homeless after East NY Blaze

By Matthew Huisman

Less than a week after a fire destroyed several units in an East New York residential building, residents are struggling to reclaim lost items as they wait for assistance from local agencies.

“I hope to get my life back together and be normal,” said Maybelline Davila, a resident whose apartment at 220 Highland Boulevard was damaged in the fire. “I have to start from scratch.”

Now Davila is living in a hotel because she has been told several times by the building owner, BNS Buildings LLC, not to return to the apartment. Davila has been getting assistance from the city’s Housing and Preservation Department as well as the Red Cross.

“I’m trying to move out of the building and find another place to live,” Davila said. “I haven’t been in my right mind. I’ve been off beat and feeling a lot of pressure.”

A fire early Saturday morning sent residents scrambling into the night. (photo by Matthew Huisman)
A fire early Saturday morning sent residents scrambling into the night. (photo by Matthew Huisman)

Davila awoke around 2:30 a.m. Saturday to the sound of her neighbor’s screams. When she opened the door thick, black smoke came pouring into her apartment.

“I felt the heat and I couldn’t see anything,” said Davila, 32. “I closed the door, called 911 and went down the fire escape.”

In a matter of minutes a fire on the top floor of the building tore through the sixth floor sending residents like Wanda Cruz and her two daughters dashing down the stairs. Cruz said they didn’t have enough time to put their shoes on, fleeing in their socks instead.

“I heard the alarm and I saw the smoke coming down the hall and under the door,” Cruz said. “With stuff like this you have to act quickly. It spreads very fast.”

Fire marshals on the scene declined to comment pending an investigation, but residents say apartment 6H was the source of the fire. The tenant, Lucca Nando, is described as a Puerto Rican man in his 50s, characterized as a recluse and a garbage-picker. Residents say Nando kept a lot of audio equipment with wires strung throughout the apartment. Workers cleaning up debris from the scene pulled out two, three-foot-tall, partly melted box speakers from the apartment.

The afternoon after the fire, residents scrubbed smoke-stained walls and salvaged what few belongings weren’t damaged in the blaze. Soot coated the once beige halls with a layer of ash that left a lingering haze. At the corner closest to the source of the blaze, the melted remains of a smoke detector clung to the wall. Wires carrying cable television and high-speed Internet had melted and twisted, dangled from the ceiling.

Davila picked through her possessions and put a select few into re-usable grocery bags. With the help of two friends she carried everything that was salvageable to a hotel.

“Everything in the closet is ruined, my coats, my shoes, my purses,” Davila said with watery eyes.

Tenants no long occupy much of the 6th floor of 220 Highland Blvd after a fire tore through several apartments last Saturday causing smoke damage. (photo by Matthew Huisman)
Tenants no long occupy much of the sixth floor of 220 Highland Boulevard after a fire damaged several apartments. (photo by Matthew Huisman)

Davila’s kitchen ceiling and closet, the spaces closest to the fire were the most damaged in the apartment.

Two days before the blaze, Nando filed a complaint with Housing and Preservation Department about the lack of heat in his apartment. This was the third complaint from the occupant in three months.

“We believe this is a kitchen fire, but the investigation is still ongoing,” said Steve Ritea, a spokesman for the Fire Department. “It could be any number of things could go wrong.”

Cruz, who lives in 6K, two doors down from Nando’s apartment, said he had been warned several times by the building superintendent for having too many wires, which could pose a danger to the rest of the residents.

“We knew this was going to happen eventually,” Cruz said.


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