Early morning fire leaves 36 homeless

One resident arrested for arson with other charges pending; five injured in blaze


The New York Police Department arrested a Morris Avenue apartment building resident for arson March 1 hours after a fire in the building he lives in injured five people, including two firefighters, and displaced 12 families and 36 people, according to the American Red Cross and Fire Department of New York.

Luis Romero, 27, was charged after intentionally setting fire to the 2718 Morris Ave. building in Fordham early in the morning, according to the 52nd Precinct. The fire injured three occupants in his apartment, where police said Romero was in possession of a crack pipe with crack residue. Two firefighters were also injured putting out the fire.

The apartment building, which has 36 units, is located near the Kingsbridge Armory and P.S. 340.

Romero was charged with arson, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, assault and criminal possession of a controlled substance, according to police. An officer at the scene told The Riverdale Press the perpetrator was taken away by the fire marshal who was investigating the cause of the fire.

“I heard it was a guy, said fourth-floor apartment resident Shawana Johnson, who was in her apartment at the time of the fire. “He lit his mattress on fire. He let it sit there and let it burn.”

Her boyfriend, Didir Coulantes, was also in the apartment when the fire ignited.

“He was on crack,” Coulantes said of the perpetrator. “He lit the mattress from underneath. If you were so high, like he was, you just liked it. He was the first one out of the building. He was smiling and motioning to himself, ‘I did it.’”

His girlfriend added, “the cops knew he did it. He said he did it.”

“The police (actually the fire marshal) took him. I don’t know where they took him. It should have been the crazy house, if you ask me. They didn’t even put him in handcuffs.”

The fire was called in at 8:33 a.m. and was under control by 10:10 a.m., according to FDNY. It started on the fourth floor and reached the fifth floor. A total of 106 fire and EMS members were on the scene, according to FDNY. The injured were taken to nearby St. Barnabas Hospital.

Johnson described how she and her boyfriend were able to make it out of the acrid smelling smoky building.

“My boyfriend tried to take me out the front door,” she said later in the afternoon.

“All we saw was black. My fire escape is in the back. So I had to come out from the back because I couldn’t go through the hallway. I just couldn’t breathe.”

The couple couldn’t believe they did not receive vouchers for cash and accommodations at nearby hotels since they didn’t expect to get back into their apartment. “They are giving people money on the first and second floors money for shelter,” Johnson said. “They gave us nothing. I heard they were giving $350 to go to hotels for two days.”

“They tried to tell us to go back in our apartment later on and sleep there,” she said. “Do you believe that?”

Late in the afternoon, representatives of JBO Management, the property management company that operates the building, were busy removing the remnants of the fire, including the frame of the bed that was allegedly where the fire started. They also had plywood that was going to be used to cover the many open windows of the red brick building.

A representative from the American Red Cross described how they set up the 36 people displaced by the fire with emergency lodging at hotels, financial assistance, emotional support and personal hygiene products, such as deodorant, shampoo and the like.

“When we have an incident like this, we like to have multiple teams there to help,” said Michael de Vulpillieres, a Red Cross communications officer. Each team consists of two people, he said. They are responsible for distributing the cash vouchers and lodging for people left homeless following a fire or disaster.

More fires in Bronx

Over the weekend and Monday morning there were more fires that left damaged buildings and led to injuries.

The biggest blaze occurred in Grand Concourse, where it was reported a lithium ion battery used to charge and electric scooter caught on fire. That led to a five-alarm fire that sent flames and smoke high into the air destroying a supermarket Sunday. A surveillance video in the supermarket showed the moment the scooter and battery caught on fire, according to news reports and the Citizen app. Reportedly, one person was injured in that blaze.

Only one day after the Grand Concourse fire Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sen. Liz Krueger sponsored two bills that would regulate the use and sale of lithium ion batteries.

“Lithium ion batteries are increasingly ubiquitous in modern society, from rechargeable laptops and phones to e-bikes and electric cars,” Dinowitz stated. “It is paramount that New Yorkers trust that these products are safe to use and have in their homes, and this legislation will bring our regulatory system into the 21st century.”

The bills would require all such batteries and chargers to meet minimum industry standards in order to be sold legally in New York and prohibit the sale of second-use lithium ion batteries intended for use in a bicycle with electric assist, an electric scooter or a limited use motorcycle. The bills would carry fines of $200 to $500 for first-time offenders.

Closer to home, a basement caught on fire at the 10-story Windsor North apartments at 4901 Henry Hudson Parkway E.

One minor was injured in the fire, according to FDNY. The fire department dispatched 20 units and 78 firefighters to the scene. It took about an hour to control the fire, which started around 11 a.m., fire department officials said.

FDNY, NYPD, Luis Romero, Morris Avenue, Fordham, American Red Cross, Didir Coulantes, Shawana Johnson, fire