Three Killed In Deadly Queens House Fire

NY Post - November 08, 2009


A deadly fire ripped through an illegally converted Queens home early this morning, killing three men and leaving four injured, authorities said.

Two people were found dead in the basement and one died later at Elmhurst Hospital of cardiac arrest, according to the Fire Department.

Four others were injured in the fire - which broke out at about 2:45 a.m. at the two-family home on 65th Street near 43rd Avenue in Woodside - and taken to the New York Hospital's burn unit for treatment. Three are in serious condition; one in critical to serious, the FDNY said.

A 911 operator typed 62nd Street instead of 65th Street into the system, but it was corrected within one to two minutes as firemen were responding.

The home - owned by Subir and Marina Barua since 1996 - was illegally divided into a five-family home, with five kitchens and five bathrooms, according to the Department of Buildings, which issued violations this morning.

But five families were not living there - DOB said the house was divided into seven rooms for single occupancy, with residents sharing bathrooms and kitchens. Four people were living in SROs in the basement, where the fire started, authorities said.

Although authorities did not identify any of the victims, a relative identified one of the injured as Shyamal Datta, 39, who has a wife and child in Bangladesh and rented a basement apartment for two years.

Ranabar Barua, Subir's brother, said at the scene that 10 people were living in the house, including the owners and their two children.

He said his brother, a pharmacist on Long Island, is badly injured at the hospital, but did not discuss the well-being of the rest of the family.

When asked about illegal apartments, he said, "I don't know."

The house is listed online as the New York City office of an international "non-political, socio-cultural and welfare" group called The World Barua Organization, which aims to help "Baruas," a surname shared by an ethnic minority in Bangladesh.

It is unclear if the Baruas housed people in need in their home.

Ranabar Barua did not discuss the organization, but said of his brother, "People come to him for help finding jobs," and said his brother is always, "helping people in the community."

Neighbor Jeffrey Folk, 49, said he knew the three men who died, and said they were "hard working guys" in their 30s, all from Bangladesh.

Several witnesses said the owner was trying to pull people out of the building, but the flames and smoke were too much.

The DOB issued violations for the illegal conversion, as improper exits for the basement apartment and conversions without permits, an inspector at the scene said.

The agency received two prior complaints of illegal conversions at the home - one in 1990 before the Baruas lived there and one in 2004. Both times, an inspector found no evidence of illegal apartments, and did not issue violations.

In 2004, inspectors could not gain access during a September inspection, and when they came back a month later, they did not find anything wrong.

"Cellar OK," the report stated.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, although sources at the scene said the boiler exploded.

"I heard a huge bang," said witness Pat Jimenez, 36, who called 911. "I heard screams, so I looked through the window across the street and saw flames coming out of the basement. Blue, red. It was raging."

The boiler did not have a steel door and was not in a room with steel walls, as required, DOB said.

He added that the Fire Department needed to use "picks and chainsaws" to open a locked shed covering a an entrance to the basement.

It took the Fire Department four minutes and 55 seconds to respond to the fire, according to FDNY spokesman Jim Long.

A dispatcher typed 62nd Street instead of 65th Street into the system, but it was corrected within one to two minutes as firemen were responding.

The average response in Queens is four minutes, 13 seconds.

Sixty firefighters responded this morning, and the fire was under control by 3:41 a.m., Long said.