A fire Friday at 106-10 Rockaway Blvd. in Ozone Park started with an explosion, according to nearby residents. They say the long-abandoned building has been a haven for drug addicts and squatters, and they are not surprised by what happened.
Joanne Uhl, 71, who lives next door to where the alleged explosion occurred, said she heard the blast, and judging by the unsavory characters she says visit the vacant building, it was bound to happen sooner or later.
“Boom! Then we heard all the glass shatter,” Uhl said. “I thought, good, I hope somebody’s in there. Those drug dealers have been coming up and down and those cops tell us we can’t do anything.”
The NYPD and FDNY were still on the scene about one hour later as residents had come out of their apartments to watch the drama unfold in front of the two-story building, which, they said, housed Better Homes Depot real estate firm up until about two years ago.
According to the FDNY, the all-hands fire started at 11:16 a.m. on the second floor of the building and was brought under control at 11:41 a.m. Twelve units and 60 firefighters responded to the scene. One firefighter was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, but a spokeswoman for the FDNY did not have further details on his condition.
“They come in here at night with all sorts of drugs,” Uhl said. “I’m living here 43 years. No one wants to see this s**t.”
Uhl said she has found vials containing drugs in the back of the building and brought them to the 106th Precinct, but she said, to her knowledge, the officers did not investigate her claims of narcotics use.
The building had visible smoke damage and the windows on the second floor in both the front and back had been blown out. There were shards of black glass all over the sidewalk. The FDNY said the cause of the blaze was under investigation.
Captain Thomas Pascale, the commanding officer of the 106th Precinct, was standing near Uhl, but they did not make eye contact. “He knows who I am,” Uhl said citing her numerous complaints. “We thought the drugs were outside the building, not inside,” Pascale said, to which Uhl just shook her head.
John Cerverizzo Jr., who lives nearby and was standing at least six storefronts away from the fire near the corner of the block, was given a summons for standing too close to the scene. Others who were standing much closer to the fire-damaged building were not ticketed.
“They won’t catch the drug dealers, but they will give me a ticket for standing on the corner,” Cerverizzo said as he held his pink summons. “She told me I was obstructing justice.”
Daniel Iannacci, who grew up in the neighborhood, was standing in the doorway of his apartment watching the FDNY survey the scene. “We’ve been complaining about the drugs for a year and a half,” he said. “It’s systematic. It’s non-stop. They’re squatters. They go in there and they do whatever they do. It’s not like this is something new. The Police Department has been here before. The Fire Department has been here before.”