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Queens house fire kills five, officials say

A house fire in Queens Village claimed the lives of three children and two adults on Sunday, April 23, 2017. The fire, at 112-16 208th St., extended to a neighboring building, officials said. As of Sunday afternoon, the cause of the fire was unknown, according to the FDNY. (Credit: Jim Staubitser)

Five people, including four children, were killed in a massive blaze that swept through a home in Queens Village on Sunday, officials said.

The fire, which started about 2:30 p.m., quickly spread through the two-story home on 208th Street and was brought under control about two hours later. The cause remained under investigation Monday morning, but a source said criminality was not suspected.

Police identified the victims as 2-year-old Chayce Lipford, 10-year-old Rashawn Matthews, 16-year-old Jada Foxworth, 17 year-old Melody Edwards and 20-year-old Destiny Dones. Officials initially thought the victims were three children and two adults, but police later said they were four children and one adult.

A man, identified as 46-year-old Maurice Matthews, escaped the blaze, falling out of the second-floor window and onto the roof of the home’s porch, a law enforcement official said. He was taken to Queens Hospital Center where he is expected to be OK, police said.

Matthews is the grandfather of Chayce and the father of Rashawn, a law enforcement official said. The relationship between the others was not immediately clear.

Two firefighters suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

Nigro said a driver reported the fire after he saw the home burning on the first and second floors and witnessed the man falling from the window. Firefighters arrived at the scene in about four minutes, he said. The adjacent home suffered heavy damage as well, but no one was there at the time.

“What we do know is this is a terrible, sad time for this block, for this community, for our entire city,” Nigro said. “These homes were built 97 years ago — they’re wood frame homes and they burn rapidly.”

Nigro added that there was no explosion, despite some reports of loud sounds. He said a parked car in the driveway was consumed in flames and the sounds could have possibly been tires popping.

With children among the dead, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the fire took “an extraordinarily large toll.”

“There’s a lot we need to know about what happened here,” he said. “There are many unanswered questions and our fire marshals will get to work on that right away.”

Dorothy Murray, who lives across the street and knew the family, occasionally baby-sitting the youngest boy who died, said flames were shooting from the windows and doors. Neighbors ran outside screaming — some crying — but no one could help because the fire was too dangerous.

“It was just too severe, too intense,” said Murray, 72. “I hope I never witness nothing like this again in my life.”

Murray, who has lived in her home for 46 years, said the block was thick with smoke and she could feel the heat emanating from the fire.

“You become numb, because you don’t even want to believe it,” she said upon hearing of the deaths. “Even though you see that fire, you don’t want to believe it.”

David Buchanan, who lives next door to the home, was at church with his wife when his teenage daughter called to tell him about the blaze, and described it as sounding “like an explosion.”

She was not hurt, but flames apparently jumped to Buchanan’s home, charring and melting some of the yellow siding.

“The whole side of my house is burnt out,” Buchanan said. “The fire jumped across the driveway.”

Buchanan said he would say hello to his neighbors, whom he described as a “big family” including young children, on occasion, but didn’t know them well.

“It’s sad,” Buchanan said. “Terrible; little babies.”

Foster McPhee was driving to the store from his home in the neighborhood when he saw the heavy smoke and flames. McPhee, 67, stopped, got out of his car and saw a firefighter carrying a young child who appeared badly burned.

“It was just really bad,” McPhee said. “I was just praying for them.”

Firefighters exiting the home gasped for air and some shed tears, McPhee added.

“Some of the firemen were crying; just very moved by the situation,” he said.

A total of 39 units and 168 firefighters responded to the blaze, according to the FDNY.

This is the deadliest fire in two years, de Blasio said, pointing to a 2015 fire in Midwood, Brooklyn, which was sparked by a malfunctioning hot plate left on for the Sabbath. That fire killed seven children, ages 5 to 16, who were sleeping upstairs when it started.

“It’s a difficult moment for people on this block to see a family literally destroyed before their very eyes,” de Blasio said. “It’s a very, very painful day.”

The fire also comes just days after firefighter William Tolley, 42, fell to his death as he was working to ventilate the roof of a five-story building in Ridgewood.

With Lauren Cook and Sheila Anne Feeney

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