New York Apartment Building Fires; Blame Code Violations

No, these aren't pictures of ruins from the Byzantine Empire but of two Manhattan Chinatown buildings (283 and 285 Grand St.) torched by a seven-alarm fire last Monday. The fire that spread among commercial/residential rental buildings (including 281 and 289 Grand St.) left one person dead, more than two dozen injured and about 200 homeless. And it led at least one observant New Yorker to wonder if the worst rental apartment-building fire in two years would cause a crackdown on building code violations -- the way the city cracked down on restaurants thanks to KFC and Taco Bell rats.

Safety violations at 283 Grand St. -- where the fire began -- total more than two dozen, including missing smoke detectors and lead paint, reports The New York Times.

But in the end, the blaze became the biggest photo-op of the week, as the only beautiful things to come out of this tragedy were the snapshots taken by pedestrians. CNN's i-reporters went iconic-picture-happy; one man took shots of a massive plume of smoke rising from the rooftop of his Lower East Side apartment. Another captured a 92-year-old grandmother on a stretcher wearing what looks like a makeshift sling after being rescued by firemen.

Pictures posted on The Lo-Down show the buildings' devastation at close range: a charred, roofless heap of crumbled walls and exposed steel -- photos snapped by Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality.

The fire was so big that one blogger posted a picture of the flames that was shot from a window all the way across the East River in Brooklyn Heights. On this note we'll amend our previous comment to mention a second beautiful thing that resulted from this tragedy -- the miracle that 200 tenants were displaced and not killed. Last we heard, The American Red Cross put up at least 170 of the newly unsettled New Yorkers in midtown hotels for a week. Meanwhile, The Department of Housing Preservation and Development is working with neighborhood organizations to ultimately place those who've lost their homes into permanent housing. Both the 283 and 285 Grand St. buildings have been deemed unsalvageable by the city and are being demolished. Fire marshals are dismissing arson as the cause of the blaze, citing a possible electrical problem in the rear of the 99 Cent store at 283 Grand St. So here's to hoping that the tenants' new digs will be rent-stabilized/controlled units like most of the rentals in the fire-consumed buildings they previously called home.


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