April 14, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
The Astoria neighbors of a young brother and sister who perished in an April 10 fire sparked by an exploding lithium-ion battery have been remembering the victims this week, saying that their loss is an unbelievable tragedy.
Elias Abdulsamed, 7, and his 19-year-old sister Arwa Abdulsamed, died in the inferno that broke out inside their home at 25-71 46th St. at around 2 p.m.
The fire started on the vestibule of the first floor when the battery of an e-bike that was connected to an extension cord exploded, sending the flames up the staircase to the second-floor apartment where the two victims were trapped, according to the FDNY.
The two victims were upstairs with three of their siblings and their father when the fast-moving fire hurtled toward them.
Elias and his sister Arwa were unable to escape and died. Their three siblings and their father managed to jump out of upstairs windows to safety. Their mother was not home at the time of the fire, FDNY officials said.
A woman who was walking with her young son along 46th Street on April 11 said she was saddened to hear of the news.
“It’s a tragic loss of two young lives,” the woman said. “I think people need to be really careful with these lithium batteries.”
A candle could be seen on the sidewalk outside the home on April 11. The front door and windows of the house were boarded up, and police tape cordoned off the house.
Bob Madden, who lives directly across the street from where the fire took place, spoke to Schneps Media on April 11 and said that he remembers seeing the victims coming and going from their home since they moved in around three years ago.
“Oh my God, [it was] so bad, so bad. Luckily their faith will help them through it,” Madden said. The family is understood to be of Muslim faith and are originally from Yemen, Madden said.
Madden said the victims were afraid to jump out the front windows and then perished as the flames and smoke spread.
An adjoining house to where the fire took place was also badly damaged as a result of the fire. Its owner, Roger, was clearing out debris with a team of workers and said he witnessed the fire unfold and tried to help the family to safety.
“I had just got home. I walked inside and I could hear screaming,” Roger said. “I went back outside and I could see smoke coming out of the back kitchen window, so I ran around to the front of the house and I opened up the door – and I saw flames on the staircase going up to the second floor.”
Roger said he then saw two of his neighbors who had arrived on the scene. The three neighbors went around the back of Roger’s house and into the backyard of the house that was on fire.
Roger’s neighbor, Steve, tried to grab a ladder that was chained to a scaffold in the backyard. They had to break the ladder in half in order to release it, Roger said.
“We put the ladder up against the wall for them to come down, but the ladder was too short,” Roger said. “By that time there was a lot of panic … and the father took the child and threw the child into my neighbor’s arms, and we got the child to safety.”
Roger said the father jumped out the window next before another young adult attempted to jump out from the opposite window.
“He was scared, he was frightened so we told him to jump onto the tree,” Roger said. “He jumped onto the tree and caught a branch and the branch brought him right to the floor. By that time, we went around to the front of the house and the fire department was there. Terrible, a terrible tragedy.”
The FDNY said they were on the scene within three minutes of getting the 911 call.
Roger said the fire severely damaged his house, which he purchased it around 18 months ago. He was carrying out renovation work on his property.
“I’m only living here a year and a half; they were a quiet family,” Roger said. “My house is in disarray, it’s unlivable … but it could have been a lot worse.”
A GoFundMe set up for the family has so far generated more than $60,000. The creator of the page wrote that the funeral of the two victims took place Wednesday, April 12.
FDNY Chief John Hodgens, who spoke to the press after the fire was extinguished, said that the fire was the 59th fire this year caused by a lithium-ion battery, resulting in five deaths.
“We want people to use them [electric bikes], but we want people to use them safely,” Hodgens said. “We want people to purchase chargers that are compatible with the devices that they purchase. Do not buy the cheapest device. We lost two people today. We were fortunate not to lose six.”
Two other neighbors who live on the next block said it was not the first time a lithium-ion battery sparked a fire in the neighborhood.
“We had a fire here last year, but nobody died. The house burned down,” said Luisa, who did not want to provide her last name.
The women said that they witnessed the April 10 fire from a distance.
“We heard everything. We saw the smoke and the fire trucks. It was very hard to witness,” Luisa said.
Queens Council member Robert Holden, who has introduced legislation that would ban electric scooters and electric bikes until they can be registered, licensed and insured, called on lawmakers to do more to regulate the bikes.
“These unnecessary deaths must end,” Holden tweeted Monday. “How much longer must we prioritize convenience over precious lives? We must demand better safety measures!”
Meanwhile, Council member Tiffany Cabán, who represents Astoria, also took to Twitter and called for “life-saving fire prevention and street safety infrastructure improvements” to tackle the issue. She did not expand on what those details would entail.