Firefighters back at scene of Queens fire

February 14, 2010 6:27:57 PM PST
Firefighters are back on the scene Sunday after a row of stores in Queens was destroyed in a major fire. It took 200 firefighters to bring the fire under control Saturday. Everyone escaped the flames, but those business owners lost everything.

The row of mom-and-pop stores stayed in business for decades. The inferno wiped them out in mere minutes.

Firefighters returned to put out some hotspots that sprang up overnight. They continue to monitor the scene in case of any others.

Nearly a dozen small businesses are now gone, including a barbershop, a furniture store, a shoe maker.

"It's just devastating," one owner said.

The flames broke out at the furniture store, whose highly combustible inventory fueled the fire, spreading to more than a dozen neighboring businesses. The thick, black smoke was visible for miles.

"Black, no fire," one store owner said. "Smoke. Couldn't see anything."

Shopkeepers were forced to abandon their busiensses, their livelihoods now little more than burned out shells

"He came, he pulled me by the neck, he said, 'Get the hell out of here, there's a fire!'" Tom's Shoe Repair owner Thomas Kourakos said. "Within 10 seconds, the whole shop was full of smoke."

The flames were so intense that rescuers evacuated 100 people from the apartment building next door as nearly 300 firefighters battled the blaze. But there was nothing they could do to save the row of stores, which withstood the passage of time, but could not survive this.

"It's devastating," Jackson Heights resident Kate Schaffer said. "These businesses have been here for a long time. The area is changing rapidly. And to see something devastated not by developers, but by fire is more troubling."

There is no word on what caused the fire to start.