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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON AND SAM SPOKONY | In what police said was arson that stemmed from a domestic dispute, a fire tore through a five-story apartment building in Nolita on Thurs., Jan. 10, killing one person and leaving nine injured.
Around 200 firefighters responded to the blaze at 41 Spring St., which began shortly after 6:30 p.m. and took nearly three hours to put out, officials said.
Wei Chu Wu, 45, was arrested that night after allegedly starting the fire in the hallway outside his second-floor apartment, police said. According to police, Wu lit the lethal spark after an argument with his wife, who eventually escaped unharmed alongside with their child.
Wu, who also reportedly tried to stop emergency personnel from entering the burning building, was charged with arson, murder, attempted assault of a police officer and resisting arrest.
Lea Spivack perished in the fire, with the cause of death given as smoke inhalation and burns. Her body was found on a third-floor fire escape, charred beyond recognition.
The fire had been set in several spots on the second floor. Spivack lived on the fourth floor. She was apparently trying to make her way down to escape the blaze. The fire gutted the building.
According to reports, her husband, Jimmy Spivack, 66, had gone to the store and returned with arms full of grocery bags to find the building ablaze. The New York Post reported that he frantically ran back and forth in front of the building screaming, “Lea! Lea!”
Jimmy Spivack is a writer and longtime resident of the building. He and Lea had been together off and on for years, but only married just recently, and she moved into the Spring St. building with him.
Lea was recalled by neighbors as quiet and athletic. Georgette Fleischer, founder of Friends of Petrosino Square, who lives nearby, said that, to her, Lea looked to be in her early 50s. Jimmy looks very young for his age, she added.
“I’ve seen her with him for decades,” Fleischer said. “They were not married. The idea that these two would keep that skipping trajectory for so long. It’s crazy — these two people finally found happiness, and this happens? You don’t know what to make of it. I do find it existentially perverse.”
Although it was an intense, quick-moving fire, Fleischer said traffic congestion and double-parking on Spring St. also contributed to the tragedy by slowing fire trucks from reaching the scene. She said she spoke to firefighters and was told this. For the past year, neighbors have been calling on elected officials and Community Board 2 to address this problem, she said.