Two major fires that hit on May 17 were both ruled accidental, fire officials say.
The first major fire hit a home in East Elmhurst, Queens in which a 57-year-old man was killed in the bedroom of his home. Fire officials at the time said the fire at 24-32 96th Street involved the second floor of the two-family dwelling. Despite best efforts by rescuers, he did not survive.
Fire officials now say the fire was sparked by an “improper use of an extension cord.” Despite a smoke detector warning of the fire, the victim was unable to escape the heavy smoke and flames in what fire officials described as “a colliers mansion” filled with clutter.
The second fire the same day occurred at a massive clothing store in Harlem at the Lazarus Clothing Store on West 125th Street. The fire began at about 7:30 p.m. when passers-by noticed smoke coming from the store, closed for weeks due to COVID-19 rules as a “non-essential business.”
The fire quickly went to a 3-alarm blaze, bringing in 150 firefighters to stop the spread to surrounding buildings.
Many in the community were suspicious that the blaze was arson, but the FDNY has debunked those fears saying in a statement, “Cause of yesterdays (May 17) 3-alarm fire at 158 West 125th Street was accidental, electrical – a short in the electrical system that powers the security gates.” The gates have been down on the store since March.
Residents standing across from the burnt-out clothing store were worried that 125th Street would return to the “bad old days of the ’70s and ’80s” when there were numerous fires caused by arson.
The street itself is facing tough economic times as establishments are unable to pay rents, expenses and many are expected to go out of business without government assistance.