Volume 23, Number 10 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 16 - 22, 2010

Downtown Express photo by Clayton Patterson

The four-alarm fire burning on the rooftop of 240 E. Houston St. last Thursday afternoon.

Roof work eyed as cause of a pair of building blazes

By Lesley Sussman

Nearly a week after a fast-moving, four-alarm fire engulfed the roof of a brick, five-story building at 240 E. Houston St., slightly injuring eight firefighters, Fire Department officials said the investigation was still continuing and that the blaze was “not of suspicious origin.” No tenants were injured in the fire.

Meanwhile, tenants who were displaced by the Thurs., July 8, fire were trying to put the pieces of their lives together. Last Friday they were briefly allowed to enter their apartments in order to retrieve clothing, valuables — and even pets.

Some of the former tenants were being housed in hotel rooms provided by the Red Cross, while others said they would be staying with relatives. The city has issued a permanent vacate order for most of the apartments in the building.

Meanwhile, businesses located on the ground level of the corner building at E. Houston St. and Avenue A suffered mixed damage. A dry cleaner and corner grocery store at 242-246 E. Houston St. were both open for business by the weekend, as were a wine store and tavern located just around the corner at 16-18 Avenue A.

Not so lucky was the Top Style Nail Salon, where owner Bruce Lee said the ceiling of his 14-year-old business had partially collapsed from water damage and that the establishment would remain temporarily closed. He added that customers were in the store when the fire broke out and had to be evacuated. Also forced to temporarily close for renovations was the Double Down Saloon at 14 Avenue A.

The blaze broke out at about 5:30 p.m. and sent plumes of thick black smoke over the neighborhood. The massive inferno could be seen as far away as the World Trade Center site.

About 150 firefighters quickly responded to the fire and put out the huge flames in less than 30 minutes. The Fire Department declared the blaze fully under control at 7:45 p.m. Several firefighters were treated for minor injuries, including smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion.

Moments after firefighters arrived, the situation on the Avenue A side of the building was chaotic. The smoke-filled street was clogged with dozens of spectators who, in some cases, impeded the approach of emergency vehicles. Firefighters were climbing ladders through the thick smoke, while others were running into the building knocking on doors and ordering everyone out. Helicopters were buzzing overhead and residents at nearby Red Square were on the roof gawking.

Construction workers recently started a renovation project at the condo building, and fire officials said they suspected that the blaze was sparked during decking work on the roof.

Four days after the fire that started in a wooden deck on the roof of the five-story condo conversion at 240 E. Houston St., another blaze broke out in a wooden deck on the roof of the six-story, cast-iron Mercantile Exchange Building, at 628 Broadway between Bleecker and W. Houston Sts.

The two-alarm fire at the Mercantile Exchange started shortly before noon on Mon., July 12, and brought 14 companies and 70 firefighters to the scene. Four firefighters and a civilian sustained minor injuries, a department spokesman said. Occupants of adjacent buildings were evacuated and traffic halted on Broadway for an hour and a half until the fire was under control. Firefighters had to cut through the roof to control fire that had reached the roof support beams.

With reporting
by Albert Amateau

 

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