7 injured as fire guts top floor of Nolita building


By Jefferson Siegel

Volume 21, Number 24 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Oct. 24 – 30, 2008

Ramona DeJesus, in whose apartment the fire started, was removed by ambulance on Monday night, above. A friend of hers who lives on the block said DeJesus’s nerves were rattled but that she didn’t suffer any injuries.

7 injured as fire guts top floor of Nolita building

A fire roared through the top floor of a six-story apartment building on Elizabeth St. Monday night, injuring three residents and four firefighters.

The fire was reported at 6:16 p.m. in Apartment 19 on the top floor of 196 Elizabeth St., and went to three alarms before being declared under control at 8:07 p.m.

Fire and emergency vehicles filled Elizabeth St. between Spring and Prince Sts. and the surrounding blocks for several hours as 133 firefighters from 33 units battled the blaze. As of Monday night, fire officials were unsure what sparked the inferno, but Battalion Chief Michael Gallagher said the blaze was accelerated by a large amount of clutter in the apartment.

Three tenants in the building, including Ramona DeJesus, in whose apartment the fire started, were removed by ambulance. DeJesus was taken to Beth Israel Hospital, and a second tenant was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital. A third tenant was treated at the scene. Four firefighters, including a battalion chief, suffered minor injuries. The unidentified chief was removed from the scene by stretcher wearing an oxygen mask.

“Once we got here, the fire took off pretty quickly,” Chief Gallagher said. At one point, a hose burst and firefighters had to pull back momentarily until a replacement was attached. Gallagher said there were working smoke alarms in the apartments.

The fire gutted four apartments on the top floor. Gallagher said apartments on lower floors suffered water damage; it was not known when residents in those flats could return to their homes. The building’s certificate of occupancy lists a ground-floor apartment and business, three apartments on floors two through five and four apartments on the top floor, for a total of 17 apartments.

Gallagher noted there was also “some involvement” of the fire spreading into an adjoining building, 198 Elizabeth St., though it appeared damage there was minor. Residents of both buildings were evacuated.

Kazusa Jibiki has owned the Lovely Day restaurant on the building’s ground floor for six years.

“We didn’t think it was going to be this bad,” Jibiki said as she recounted how her staff ran to her office after seeing smoke. Jibiki said she asked the 15 customers “to leave for safety, then the fire started and the whole top floor was on fire.” None of the diners or staff were hurt. Late Monday night, Jibiki stood a half-block away from her business, unsure if it had been damaged.

After the blaze was controlled, residents stood near Prince St. talking with the Red Cross, which was arranging emergency accommodations.

City property records indicate the building was built in 1876. Department of Buildings records show a violation was issued against the building in 2004, noting, “Due to renovation that was done back in 2002, apt wall are [sic] cracked and floor are [sic] sagging and sloping tenant alleges structure stability is affected.”

Late Monday night, D.O.B. issued a new complaint, noting the building “appears unstable” on the fifth floor.