Harsh winter brings fire and ice


Riverdale saw at least its second fire in as many weeks on Feb. 12, when a blaze at the high-rise at 4555 Henry Hudson Parkway destroyed an apartment and forced tenants to  evacuate. As at a Jan. 30 fire at a 445 West 240th Street apartment building, no one was injured. But the streak brings home a fact of life in New York City: winter is one of the most dangerous times of the year in terms of fires.

The cause of last Wednesday’s blaze was still under investigation as of press time, but the ninth-floor apartment’s occupant said his teenage sons noticed a fire start in one of their closets in the early evening. José Alvarez said after his 13- and 15-year-old boys grabbed the family’s hamster and Maltese dog and called 911, they managed to escape.

“It was an accident, and that’s it,” Mr. Alvarez said last Wednesday night as he waited on the phone with his insurance company. “They did the right thing,” he said of his sons.

The FDNY followed standard procedure for high-rise blazes, sending 20 units with about 78 firefighters, according to a fire spokesperson.

The blaze destroyed his apartment’s windows, smoke filled the rooms with an acrid smell and water from a firefighter’s hose deluged the floors, so Mr. Alvarez and his children planned to stay with relatives in the Bronx.

Smoke in the hallway

A woman living across the hall from Mr. Alvarez holed up in a room with her daughter for the duration of the blaze after the child noticed smoke coming into their apartment from the hallway.

“It was rather slow,” Jennifer Firestone said of the minutes she waited for the coast to clear with her daughter. “I think the most important thing is… that [Mr. Alvarez] and his family are safe.”

While Ms. Firestone’s daughter was able to alert her mother to the fire, a Bronx fireman said winter conditions can make it difficult for people to notice such threats.

The fireman explained that closed windows keep out the smell of smoke, delaying or preventing people from noticing a looming fire. He added that frozen pipes can complicate firefighters’ work, attributing the wintertime rise in blazes to taxed electrical systems and home heating units.

Electrical safety

“The FDNY emphasizes the importance of making your home electrically safe, never leaving open flames unattended and maintaining smoke and CO alarms,” spokeswoman Elisheva Zakheim said in an e-mail.

Ms. Zakheim added that more than a third of the fires that take place in New York City happen between December and February. Last month saw 49 serious incidents in the Bronx, with none of them bigger than a three-alarm fire. FDNY’s press office said it does not keep statistics for individual neighborhoods.

After the Feb. 12 fire, Mr. Alvarez’s sister-in-law came to the ruined apartment to salvage some personal items: family photos along with a pair of fashionable, if damaged, red women’s shoes.

“You took the shoes. I love that,” resident Debra Maslauko observed, putting a light-hearted spin on the somber evening. “That’s a Sex and the City moment.”