Blaze sends Sunset Park families scrambling for shelter

April 14, 2014 Heather Chin
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When seven-year-old Anthony Luis Hernandez Torres walked home from the park with his mother and first saw smoke and flames coming out of his apartment building shortly after 5:44 p.m. on Sunday, April 13, he was scared.

“It was sort of scary. I had [pet] fish. I guess they died already,” he said sadly, standing less than 24 hours later amidst the furniture and clothes-filled garbage bags that his family and neighbors had piled up outside the corner building at 4324 Fourth Avenue. “Now, it’s not that scary anymore, but I just feel bad about my home.”

Torres and his parents were among 13 families—23 people, of which 13 are children—displaced by a fast-moving fire that fire officials say spread upwards from the basement of the three-story building, drawing 33 FDNY units and 140 firefighters, who finally got the blaze under control by 7:10 p.m.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, said FDNY officials.

No serious injuries were reported, although two children who were eating at the ground floor restaurant, Tacos El Bronco, were taken to the hospital along with a firefighter with minor injuries.

Plates of half-eaten food still sat on the restaurant’s tables the next morning, a reminder of the hurried evacuation that took place during the restaurant’s busiest night of the week.

“Sunday is our biggest day, so we were stocked up, but we still have the two [food] trucks and will probably have another one outside the restaurant [temporarily],” said Elias Ballinas, co-owner of Tacos El Bronco.

Now that families have spent one night in a hotel and have two more provided for by the Red Cross of Greater New York, they are shifting their attention to what they will do in the long term.

“We’re going to move our [possessions] and want to stay on 39th Street with friends, but we’ll see what we can do because we don’t know,” said Roberto Sombrerero, whose family has lived on the third floor for nine years.

Juana Flores is most concerned for her six-year-old daughter, for whom she said she “need[s] to figure out her needs for school and temporary housing [that will last] long enough to get everything in order.”

“Job number one is stability, so the immediate concern is for folks to have sufficient housing,” said Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who was on the scene, and who noted that his office will continue to outreach with displaced residents in order to determine what needs need to be addressed and how the community can help.

The landlord of the building was also on the scene, but declined comment.

To find out how you can help, contact Menchaca’s office at 718-439-9012 and keep following Home Reporter coverage of the issue.

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