One Dead as Fire Rips Through NYC Basement Apartment

NY Daily News - October 09, 2019

by MARCO POGGIO and THOMAS TRACY

A 64-year-old man was killed and burned beyond recognition by a fast-moving fire that ripped through his Brooklyn basement apartment Tuesday, authorities said.

The blaze broke out in the two-story four-family home on E. 96th St. near Willmohr St. in East Flatbush just before 2 p.m. Victim Hugh Kirkland lived in the basement apartment with his brother.

A 64-year-old man was killed and burned beyond recognition by a fast-moving fire that ripped through his Brooklyn basement apartment Tuesday, authorities said.

The blaze broke out in the two-story four-family home on E. 96th St. near Willmohr St. in East Flatbush just before 2 p.m. Victim Hugh Kirkland lived in the basement apartment with his brother.

“I was sitting outside down the block, smoking a cigarette," he said. “I saw the commotion, guys trying to tell people in the building it was on fire.”

He raced back to the building and, covering his face with his head scarf, tried to save his brother. “I wet this and put it over my face and I went in there," he said, still clutching the scarf hours later.

Smoke and flames quickly forced him back out of the apartment, he recalled.

“I couldn’t go in,” he said. “I’m calling his name, ‘Yo, Kirk! Kirk!’ and I didn’t hear anything.”

“I wish it was a dream," he added. "But I know it’s not.”

When firefighters responded thick smoke was streaming out the windows and the basement was fully engulfed in flames. The staircase to the basement was cluttered with boxes, a ladder and a baby carriage, slowing the firefighters’ descent.

“Upon clearing the rubbish and the clutter, the units made a push into the basement,” said FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Joseph Ferrante. “We were able to extinguish the fire.”

In the basement, firefighters found the body of the victim so badly burned they couldn’t guess at his age.

An infant less than a month old who lives in an apartment on the first floor was transported to Brookdale University Hospital for minor smoke inhalation, officials said.

Monique Smith and her family climbed out a window to escape the deadly blaze after neighbors knocked on the window to alert them to the danger.

“When we opened the door, the hallway was already black (from smoke)," Smith said, explaining why they resorted to the window.

Once on the street, she saw a thick plume of smoke coming out of the house and heard windows shatter.

The window popped and then... crash! There was a lot of smoke,” Smith said.

“When the glass broke, that’s when I’ve seen [the fire] flair out. It was pretty bad.” Smith called the victim “nice, quiet."

“He didn’t bother nobody,” she said.

Ferrante emphasized that fires inside basements are more challenging than others — and that objects left in staircases hinder rescue operations.

“It slows everything down,” he said. “It makes it much harder.”

Smoke detectors installed in the building were functioning, authorities said. Fire marshals were determining what sparked the fire.

Two years ago, an electrical fire broke out in their apartment, Christopher Kirkland said.

His brother saw the flames and came to alert him. They emptied out a fire extinguisher trying in vain to stop that blaze without success. Firefighters eventually came and put that fire out.