Garage next door being investigated as source of blaze
Nobody was hurt, but three families were displaced by a fire this past Shabbos morning on 68th Drive near Main Street. Sensing a need, Kew Gardens Hills resident Lois Simons started campaigns on GoFundMe and TheChesedFund to help her neighbors.
“My daughter is super close with the oldest daughter. She spends many Friday nights and Shabbos with them. The girls are inseparable during the week as well,” said Simons. “She is staying with us through this situation.” Her neighbors Osnat and Pinchas Aba, and their six children, lost everything in the quick-burning fire.
Neighbor Eli Siegel described them as a beautiful family. “All are extremely nice and respectful – from the parents down to the youngest. They are now dispersed among friends, family, and hospitals. You can only imagine what that is like emotionally and, yes, also financially.”
“I was sleeping and we smelled smoke from downstairs. I immediately called 911,” said Osnat Aba, who was home with her oldest daughter while Pinchas was at the synagogue. When he returned to his wife and daughter, he lost his breath and was hospitalized for a day with smoke inhalation.
On the floor below, Sheli Man-Steinberg, a school administrator, also smelled smoke and quickly ran from her apartment. “The garage next door was used to store things and these things were flammable,” said Man-Steinberg. “There was a smell, and we’ve been complaining but nothing was done.” A third unit, rented by Ilana and Omri Porat, who live with two of their three children, was also entirely destroyed by the fire.
A neighbor who lived down the block in a similar housing unit described the block as a slum, based on the open violations issued by HPD (the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development) and the Department of Buildings. Not wishing to give his name, he moved out last year after living on the block for over six years. “Where is the management to help out? I thought that they were good members of the community,” said this longtime neighbor. He stated this with sarcasm, as he recalled his own battles against insects and rodents, with no results from property management until he withheld rent.
When contacted, a managing agent did not recall her tenants’ complaints. “I am not aware of any violations; you can speak to the tenants. This is a legal three-family home. The fire is under investigation.” A search through HPD confirmed that the 1947 structure was legally converted for three units.
Aba said that she complained about lead paint. “It was not fixed. They only worry about the rent.” A search on the HPD website revealed an open violation for lead paint dating to 2009. “The building itself was neglected,” said Steinberg-Man. “Getting things fixed took years.”
Within an hour of Shabbos ending, online donations have begun pouring in, along with Facebook offers of items. “I have a queen-size mattress,” wrote Hila Noy-Stern, while another local resident, Laura Greene Goldsmith, offered a crockpot, and Briarwood resident Batya Perelman offered clothing.
To donate to the Aba family, go to www.gofundme.com/66xepa-lost-everything-in-home-fire.
To donate to Sheli Man-Steinberg, go to https://www.gofundme.com/shelis-fire-damage-emergency-fund.
By Sergey Kadinsky