2 killed, many injured in Chinatown tenement fire


By Albert Amateau

A fire that raged through a six-story Chinatown tenement on Tuesday morning Feb. 24 killed a man and a woman and injured about 30 other residents.

Firefighters found the dead man Tony Wong, 32, on the third floor of the building. Anna Luu, also 32, who lived with Wong, died later. Four of the injured were seriously hurt, including at least one of three people who jumped from the fifth- and sixth-floor windows of the 100-year-old building at 22 James St.

Cause of the fire was attributed to a faulty extension cord in a second floor apartment.

The first alarm came in at 3:37 a.m., when the temperature was 22 degrees and winds were gusting to 30 miles per hour. Water from the fire hoses froze when it hit the ground. By the time the fire was declared under control at 8:50 a.m., four alarms had rung and 200 firefighters were on the scene. Eight firefighters sustained minor injuries.

Patrick McNally, F.D.N.Y. chief of operations, told reporters at the scene that parts of the roof and some of the floors collapsed, but no other buildings on the block were damaged.

The Red Cross evacuated about 200 people in 60 families from the building and from the two tenements on either side of it. The residents, many of whom speak only Chinese, were taken to temporary shelter in the Hamilton- Madison House community room nearby.

A spokesperson for New York Downtown Hospital told the Associate Press that eight people, including Wong who died in the fire, had been brought to the hospital on Gold St. Luu was also among the injured brought to the hospital but she was transferred immediately to the burn unit of the Weill Cornell Medical Center where she died later. Two Downtown Hospital patients were released before noon. Others injured in the fire were taken to Bellevue or Beth Israel hospitals.

Last month, a Department of Buildings inspection found defective electrical wiring in ceiling fixtures at 22 James St. and violation notices were issued. The violations were resolved by Jan. 28, according to D.O.B. records.

City Councilmember Alan Gerson and Borough President Scott Stringer visited the community room at Hamilton-Madison House, at 50 Madison St., where the survivors gathered.

Gerson noted that Engine 4 in the firehouse on South St. at Gouverneur Lane was one of those responding to the alarm. The Fire Department ordered Engine 4, which shares the firehouse with Ladder 15, to be closed during late evenings and early mornings starting a month ago. Department officials said at the time the company would be staffed on certain nights when there were enough excess firefighters on duty across the city, but said they did not expect that situation to continue much longer because of a canceled fire class.

“Fortunately, Engine 4 was operating on the Monday night tour,” Gerson said. “It just proves that we can’t make do with less. Engine 4 is also on the city list for permanent closing.”

The mayor’s current budget, which has not yet passed the City Council, includes the permanent closure of Engine 4.

The building that burned was not among the worst in the area but, dating as it does from the turn of the century, it did not have a sprinkler system, Gerson said.

“These buildings really have to be upgraded to allow sprinklers to be installed,” Gerson said. “We recently sponsored a pilot program with Asian Americans for Equality and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Tenant Acquisition and Rehabilitation Preservation program…which is about to receive a $10 million grant from the L.M.D.C.,” he said, referring to part of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s affordable housing fund. “It could fund sprinkler upgrading in buildings like these. It’s not enough, of course, but it’s something the city should support.”

The two buildings on either side of the fire location had passed an inspection shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday, and residents were expected to return once H.P.D. signed off on the habitability of the individual apartments, Gerson said.