Monday, December 21, 2009

About that fire yesterday in the footprint: a close call

Yesterday, not long before the "chains of justice" protest/media event at Freddy's Bar & Backroom, a fire began in an apartment just doors away along Dean Street, in a 131-old row house scheduled to be demolished for the Atlantic Yards arena block.

(Photos and set by Tracy Collins)

Only two people live there now, and the sole resident at the time, David Sheets (a plaintiff in the AY eminent domain suit), was asleep at noon after a late night when his housemate Mike Sternfeld returned from the protest.

Sheets's bedroom door was closed, and he had purchased but not yet installed a new smoke detector. Sternfeld, however, quickly noticed that a fire had begun, Sheets reported, and "started yelling, and barging in my room. If he hadn't done it, I'd be dead." Firefighters quickly responded.

While rumors circulated that the fire may have been suspicious, Sheets said that wasn't so. A year ago, during winter, he'd smelled what seemed like burning wood, but the problem didn't persist.

But this time the problem recurred--a hole in the flue, Sheets said--exacerbated because he'd turned the heat up in the cold. The oil boiler heated to the point where the wood in the wall began smoldering.

It ignited into a slow creeping fire. When Sternfeld returned, there were flames in the apartment. "Half of my kitchen is gone, half of my living room is gone," Sheets said, citing the hacking and hatcheting the firefighters had to do to allow the water to get through.

Still, earlier today at least, he was still expecting to stay in the apartment, with repairs on the way. And he was grateful he'd survived a very close call.

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