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Illegal use of blow torch caused raging inferno at Sunnyside apartment building: FDNY

The cause of the massive fire at a Sunnyside apartment building on Wednesday was due to the illegal use of a blow torch by a contractor, according to the FDNY. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Dec. 21, 2023 By Bill Parry

FDNY fire marshals have determined that Wednesday’s massive 5-alarm fire in a Sunnyside apartment building, which left 450 residents displaced, was caused by the illegal use of a blow torch.

The Department of Buildings issued a Full Vacate Order for the entire building and said entrances will be sealed to keep people out of the building. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The blaze erupted at around noon in a 6th-floor apartment at 43-09 47th Ave., after it was sparked by a contractor who was using an unauthorized blow torch to heat lead paint on a metal closet door frame inside the vacant apartment.

The worker attempted to put out the flames but failed, according to the Fire Marshal’s Office. The fire then traveled up the walls and into a cock loft where it rapidly spread to other apartments on the 6th floor.

The FDNY responded to a call at 12:02 p.m., as the rapidly moving fire consumed multiple units on the top floor of the six-story building. A fifth alarm was transmitted at 1:15 p.m., bringing the total number of units to 44 with 198 firefighters and EMS personnel.

The inferno was finally brought under control at 4:35 p.m., according to the FDNY. No one died in the fire, but 450 residents from 107 apartments were forced to leave the building. Inspectors from the city’s Department of Buildings issued a Full Vacate Order for the entire premises after they observed severe fire damage throughout the complex, including windows and large sections of the roof removed, exposing interiors of the building to the elements, according to DOB officials.

A sidewalk shed will be erected around the entire building, and all entrances will be sealed for compliance. The American Red Cross began providing emergency relocation assistance for the displaced residents who are in need of services at the Children’s Lab School, but the location could not handle the volume of displaced residents.

The Red Cross relocated its service center operations to the Sunnyside Community Services center, located at 43-31 39th St., just north of Queens Boulevard. Caseworkers are assisting 160 residents from 68 households that were displaced, connecting them with government and nonprofit partner resources to assist with long-term recovery.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and Assembly Member Juan Ardila were briefed by Red Cross personnel at Sunnyside Community Services on Thursday morning.

Queens Borough President Donavan Richards and Assemblymember Juan Ardila are briefed by Red Cross officials at the Sunnyside Community Services Center. Photo courtesy of Ardila’s office

“Yesterday’s fire in Sunnyside was nothing short of devastating, both for the hundreds of residents now facing unimaginable uncertainty just days before Christmas and for the community as a whole. As I told some of those displaced families today at the Red Cross’ reception center, my office and this borough will be there with them every step of the way as we recover from this tragedy,” Richards said. “To that end, I hosted a briefing with area elected officials and city agencies today to begin developing an action plan to assist those in need. And while we’re in the process of developing an item donation drive, the best way to assist our displaced families right now is through monetary donations. If you’re able, I encourage Queens residents to consider donating to Sunnyside Community Services’ relief fund this holiday season, as we help our neighbors get back on their feet.”

Ardila urged his constituents to let any displaced residents know that “immigration status is not a factor for processing,” and they will be served regardless of documentation.

Ardila also asked that the community hold off on physical donations at the Children’s Lab School and Sunnyside Community Services because they “do not have the capacity to receive them at this time.”

Sunnyside Community Services Director of Development Monica Guzman set up the relief fund.

“The community has already shown an outpouring of support in so many ways, including with donations of clothing and pet care items,” Guzman wrote. “At this time, community groups and tenants are asking for monetary donations. This vital cash assistance can be given to the residents so they can take care of their immediate needs. Other community partners and organizations are ready to join and help spread the word so we can help raise as much funds as possible to support our neighbors.”

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