March, 24, 2021 By Michael Dorgan
A GoFundMe page has been set up to aid residents at the Phipps Garden Apartments whose apartments were damaged by a fire Tuesday afternoon.
The blaze broke out inside an apartment in the S section of the complex, located at 51-01 39th Ave., at around 2 p.m. and the FDNY dispatched 25 units consisting of more than 100 firefighters to put it out, officials said.
Firefighters got the fire under control by 3 p.m. and there were no reported injuries, the FDNY said.
Julie Won, a Phipps Garden Apartments resident and a candidate for city council, launched the GoFundMe page yesterday and is looking to raise money for those tenants whose apartments were wrecked in the fire.
Won said that the fire caused damage to six apartments on floors 2 through 4, and that two units on the ground floor were flooded when the FDNY put out the blaze. She said that five families have been forced to leave and find temporary accommodation.
The Red Cross, Won says, has put some of the tenants up in hotels but they will not be able to return to their apartments for at least a month.
Won is looking to raise $25,000 for the impacted tenants to help pay for their accommodation and to cover their property that was destroyed. The GoFundMe has generated more than $6,000 to date from more than 100 donors.
“It is truly miraculous that no lives were lost,” Won said, noting that some of the tenants are seniors and have mobility problems.
“But now my neighbors have had their belongings destroyed, and are displaced for the foreseeable future.”
The blaze started in a second-floor apartment in a wall shared with an adjoining apartment, according to Adam Weinstein, the president and CEO of Phipps.
Weinstein said the fire was contained to the second floor but the FDNY had to demolish walls and doors on floors 2 through 4 to put it out. The FDNY also smashed out windows, and there was water damage.
“We are so thankful that no one was hurt or injured,” a spokesperson for Phipps said. “We’re already in touch with each of the households and are beginning to work on the restoration of the units. The Red Cross has offered service to tenants who may need assistance.”
Phipps says it has already replaced the smashed windows–and that the doors are being repaired. Additionally, an electrician is on site and the water is being removed. The organization said that it has already notified its insurance provider about the fire.
The tenants with damaged apartments are also being taken care of, according to Phipps. “Each of the affected tenants is either housed, remaining in their apartment, staying with family, or decamped at a second home out of town.”
Phipps said the cause of the fire remains under investigation. The FDNY confirmed that it is still investigating what sparked the blaze.
However, some tenants say the fire was caused by a contractor carrying out renovation work inside a vacated apartment on the second floor.
A worker, tenants say, was drilling a hole through a kitchen wall and struck a wire which ignited.
Won claims the incident can be attributed to Phipps’ mismanagement of the 432-unit complex, arguing the contractor had been hired by Phipps.
“The management has consistently proven to be incompetent and derelict in their obligations to provide safe, clean, and dignified housing,” Won said.
She said the fire re-enforced her opposition to Phipps’ plans to construct a 167-unit affordable housing building at 50-25 Barnett Ave., which is adjacent to the Garden complex. Phipps needs the Barnett Avenue site rezoned to develop the site.
The fate of the rezoning application will be determined tomorrow when the city council votes on the plan.
“As a Phipps resident and a member of the Community Board, I opposed the rezoning of the Barnett Ave site specifically due to their mistreatment of their tenants.”
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer called on Phipps to repair the wreckage and find accommodation for the displaced families.
“While grateful there was no loss of life or serious injury, it was a traumatic experience that has left people without their home. All damages must be repaired by Phipps ASAP,” Van Bramer said.
“Phipps must accommodate all families affected in every way possible, including housing anyone who requires shelter.”