Fierce Five-Alarm Fire Rips Through Bronx Strip Mall

NY Daily News - November 01, 2009

by Sarah Armaghan, Jill Colvin and Larry Mcshane

A ferocious five-alarm fire in a jinxed Bronx strip mall gutted 14 stores early Saturday, including a popular bakery just two days short of a $300,000 grand reopening.

The 3 a.m. blaze - the second since April at the shopping center - devastated the owners of Bainbridge Bakery and Pastry and destroyed every business in the block-long shopping center.

"We were supposed to open Monday ... Now I don't know what we're going to do," Ana Mirvita said while standing outside her burned-out family bakery.

"I'm very distraught right now," said Mirvita, whose clan opened the store in 1991. "This was our bread and butter. Who has the money to reopen? This is so bad."

Mir Mansur, owner of the mall's Neighborhood Gift and Wireless, surveyed the wreckage in disbelief after the fire raged for more than five hours.

"There is nothing left," said Mansur, standing near the smoldering wreckage. "I've lost everything. I'm just thinking, 'What do I do next?'"

The roof and the front wall of the building at E. 205th St. and Bainbridge Ave. collapsed as 150 firefighters battled intense flames that illuminated the pre-dawn sky.

"It's bad," said Francisco Diaz Jr., whose father owned a Mexican restaurant destroyed in the blaze.

"This is real bad. A whole block of businesses gone, just like that. "It's crazy."

Four firefighters suffered minor injuries, mostly bumps and bruises, the FDNY said.

Both Mansur and Mirvita suffered major financial blows, since their businesses were both uninsured due to the damages caused by the earlier fire.

Mirvita said the bakery's insurance was due to kick in again in two days, once the business was reopened. Her son John, who had worked in the shop since childhood, said there was little hope of a second resurrection for the store.

"It's over," the 24-year-old said.

The April fire started in the bakery, forcing its owners to shut down the neighborhood fixture until extensive repairs were done.

Their dreams of reopening disappeared with the early morning smoke climbing into the Bronx sky.

"I can't believe this happened twice," said Rika Elezovic, 46, a bakery worker.

"They were renovating everything. From the bottom to the top of the place, everything was brand new. "Now it's all destroyed."

Fire marshals started their investigation, although the cause of the blaze remained unknown, said Deputy Assistant Fire Chief John Sudnik.

The El Diamonte, a Mexican restaurant, was still open when smoke started leaking into the restaurant, Diaz said.

The staff hustled the late-night diners to safety before the fire raced through the mall. The Diaz family business had renovated since the April blaze, when it suffered some damage.

His father, Francisco Sr., wasn't sure if they could afford to rebuild again.

"This is very sad," the elder Diaz said. "I don't like to see my restaurant like that. I've put many hours into making that place nice."

Alex Rivera, 19, watched the fire from the rooftop of her nearby building as local residents stared in shock at the disaster. "The fire just kept getting bigger and bigger," she said.

"There's so many stores that got ruined. It's awful."

Salvatore Mirra, 56, owns the neighboring Hillside Meat and Deli.

A friend called him after seeing the flames, and he arrived in the middle of the night to watch firefighters knock down the blaze before it reached his business. "Oh my God, the whole block was engulfed in flames," Mirra said.

"It was surreal."