Fires kill several in NYC this weekend

3 immigrant workers dead in one blaze
January 20, 2008 5:06:16 PM PST
Fires broke out early Saturday morning killing several people. One, on Morris Avenue in the Fordham section of the Bronx--claimed the life of a 76-year-old woman.

The other was on 18th Avenue in Benson Hurst, Brooklyn--was even deadlier. Three people died in the flames there. That's where Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager is standing by with more.

There was absolute shock and horror as relatives learned what happened in this second floor apartment here on Morris Avenue where 76-year-old Blondel Alston had lived with her 97-year-old mother.

"I am hurt," said victim's cousin, Marie Wiggins. "I've been coming here, taking care of them, every day, every night."

At 8:15 in Saturday morning, investigators say Mrs. Alston simply could not survive the flames. Miraculously, firefighters were able to rescue her elderly mother as neighbors helplessly looked on.

"I just heard one woman screaming, 'help me, help me,'" said neighbor Awilda Toro. "There was just nothing I could do."

Meanwhile, just one hour earlier here on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst, there was another desperate scene.

A fire was so powerful four people in this upstairs apartment were unconscious. Three of them died a short time later. Another resident, so panic stricken, jumped through the glass of a second floor window, but he survived.

"As soon as he jumped from the window, the window broke and there was a lot of fire behind him," a witness said.

"I could see him bleeding all over. He tried to come inside the store," said Bensonhurst store owner, Ahmed Tabet. "He said, 'call the police.'"

The building was occupied by single young men from Guatemala who worked in construction and house painting, said Ahmed Tebet, who works at a grocery store next door.

"They all lived alone, and I don't know if they were legal immigrants," Tebet said.

The victims lived above a store in an ethnically mixed neighborhood. Many young Hispanic workers in the neighborhood work day jobs for meager pay and send money to families back home.

One person died en route to Staten Island University Hospital and a second died in the emergency room, said hospital spokesman Christian Preston. Police said another man was pronounced dead at Coney Island Hospital.

As investigators from both fires try to figure out what happened clearly two fires where the victims had no easy way out.

"It was not that large of a fire. It was just in a very bad position for people on the second floor," said FDNY Asst. Chief John Coloe. "It cut off their exit to the stairs."