Residents on 68th Avenue near 79th Street woke up to an inferno on Monday night that incinerated several homes in Middle Village.
“It was unlike anything I have ever seen before,” said Tony Deluca, who lives across the street from the affected homes. “I got up and thought they were doing garbage collection early or something because it was so loud but when I looked out my window you just saw fire shooting out of the roof of this house and all of the houses around it.”
The Fire Department received a 911 call around 8:30 p.m. and within minutes, the blaze was declared a five-alarm fire, meaning 44 units comprising approximately 200 firefighters were on the scene.
“They just couldn’t get it out,” Deluca said. “The wind was blowing this way and that way and they just couldn’t get it under control. Standing across the street you could feel the heat on your skin.”
Another resident, who asked that she only be referred to as Cheryl, said the smoke became unbearable at one point.
“The wind was carrying the smoke into our house and I have a little one with asthma so we had to shut all of the windows and I needed to get her out of here because that smoke is no good for her lungs,” she said.
About 13 firefighters sustained injuries. One of them was in critical condition but has since been declared stable.
The FDNY has determined the fire started in the wiring of the cellar ceiling of 78-13 68 Ave.
Neighbors complained that the tenants of the home have a habit of collecting items, leaving the house and the front yard cluttered and overgrown with shrubbery.
“They are like hoarders,” Cheryl said. “They keep all of this stuff all over their house.”
Some residents said firefighters were struggling to walk through the cellar when they surveyed the home.
The American Red Cross responded to the scene almost immediately to assist any of the 41 residents who were affected by the fire.
In the end, four families took the Red Cross up on its offer and have been relocated to local hotels.
“I can’t even imagine going through something like this,” Deluca said. “I’ve known these people almost 15 years and they’re good people. No one deserves to have this happen to them.”
On Tuesday morning, firefighters were still surveying the five homes that accumulated serious damage. An FDNY spokesman said that a sixth home had minimal damage. Residents were debriefed and then taken through their homes to collect any items that survived the flames.
Green tarps were thrown over the roofs that had disintegrated and the lush greenery that surrounded many of the homes made for a stark contrast to the crumbling homes and boarded up windows.
“Everything has to be gone,” Cheryl said. “That fire was so bad, there can’t be much left and it’s not the furniture or material items that’s bad, it’s the pictures and things that cannot be replaced that are the hardest to lose.”
Alex Maureau, of the office of state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Middle Village), started a collection this morning to help the victims.
Items needed include bottled water, nonperishable food, baby and children’s clothes — for girls ages 2, 4 and 5 — a crib, toiletries, towels, sheets, cleaning supplies, dust masks, flashlights and batteries.
School supplies, including pens, pencils, notebooks and backpacks are also needed as some of the children affected by the fire have started the school year without adequate materials.
Those who wish to donate can bring items to any of four drop-off locations, which include all three of Addabbo’s district offices, located at 66-85 73 Place in Middle Village, 159-53 102 St. in Howard Beach and 88-08 Rockaway Beach Blvd. in Rockaway Beach, and the Queens Chronicle’s office at 62-33 Woodhaven Blvd. in Rego Park.
For more information, call Addabbo’s office at (718) 497-1630.