Centennial Celebration
Contractor Faces Four Years in Elmhurst Inferno

Western Queens Gazette - April 19, 2017

by LIZ GOFF

A Yonkers contractor was arraigned last week on a criminal complaint, charging him with fourth-degree arson, second-degree reckless endangerment and a violation of the city fire code that safeguards roofing operations.

Prosecutors said Declan McElhatton’s reckless use of a torch resulted in a 5-alarm blaze that tore through an apartment building at 94th Street near 57th Avenue in Elmhurst on April 11. The inferno left 67 families homeless and 11 firefighters injured – including two who were hospitalized with very serious, but non-life threatening injuries.

According to the criminal complaint, McElhatton, who was hired to make repairs to the roof of the building, specified in a contract with building owners that he would use materials “designed to be applied cold, without the use of heat.”

Fire officials said the blaze was caused by an open flame in close proximity to combustibles on the roof of the building. Fire marshals that inspected the roof when the smoke cleared found 18 rolls of black roofing materials designed for use with a torch and two propane tanks, one of which was connected to a black rubber hose, according to the complaint.

McElhatton, who works for Maintenance Asset Management in Yonkers, had been working in the building just before the fire started, according to the complaint. The fire started just before 6:30 p.m. on April 11, fire officials said. Flames shot from the top floor of the seven-story building and quickly spread through the building cockloft between the 7th floor ceiling and the roof, FDNY Queensborough Commander Chief Edward Baggott said.

The blaze destroyed 52 units, approximately half of the 112 apartments in the building. Police and firefighters quickly evacuated each of the 112 units, police officials said. “Firefighters had such a quick response that they were able to save 60 apartments,” NYPD Chief of Department James Leonard said.

One firefighter was taken to the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell Burn Unit and a second firefighter was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center with serious injuries, a fire spokesperson said. Seven other firefighters suffered minor injuries.

The Red Cross is helping 144 adults and 51 children cope with their losses, an agency spokesperson said. Red Cross volunteers arrived at the scene shortly after the inferno started. A number of those displaced by the fire were offered temporary shelter at a nearby school, while others were provided vouchers that allowed them to stay at nearby hotels.

It is unclear when residents would be able to return to units that firefighters saved from the blaze.

Bail for McElhatton was set at $50,000 bond/$30,000 cash. If convicted, McElhatton faces up to four years in prison.