Chemical Fumes Spark Powerful Explosion That Burns Brooklyn Building

NY Daily News - September 18, 2009

by Jonathan Lemire

A man refurbishing the floor of a Brooklyn building miraculously escaped a chemical explosion Thursday that blew out windows and charred walls.

Ashley Baptiste, 61, is expected to survive second-degree burns to his hands and arms after being enveloped by a fireball that tore through the third floor of a Maple St. building at 9:10 a.m., officials said.

Investigators believe Baptiste was using polyurethane on the floors of the Prospect-Lefferts Gardens building. The hallway was not properly ventilated, allowing the flammable fumes to build, FDNY sources said.

It was not clear what sparked the blast, but witnesses said a blinding flash fire ignited and sent flames racing down the narrow hallway.

Baptiste tried to run but tripped over a bucket, and the flames then spread into a stairwell, he later told investigators.

He managed to escape and was still conscious when paramedics rushed him to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell. He was in serious but stable condition in the burn center.

Firefighters extinguished the flames within minutes, but the aftermath was stark: Dozens of windows were blown out and walls on the building's third and fourth floors were totally blackened by the fireball.

No one else was seriously injured, officials said.

FDNY fire marshals were combing the building late Thursday, as were Department of Buildings officials, trying to determine the damaged structure's stability.