BRIGHTON BEACH – A two-alarm fire ripped through a Brighton Beach restaurant from underneath the boardwalk, injuring one firefighter and causing heavy damage to the establishment and to the wooden planks, fire officials said.
Restaurant owners and residents are blaming the city, notably the Parks Department and Community Board 13 for failing to keep homeless people from living under the Boardwalk and inadequate cleaning of trash accumulating under it.
Officials admit that this was not the first fire of its type. Past fires had caused serious damage to the boardwalk restaurants several times before over the years. Officials from Community Board 13 say this is an ongoing problem as attempts to secure areas under the boardwalk have been difficult as homeless people continue to break through fencing and gates to find shelter.
The fire broke out at about 9:50 p.m. underneath the Boardwalk between Brighton 6th and 5th Street with Tatiana’s Restaurant’s outdoor seating enclosure on top of it.
The restaurant was still occupied at the time and as the manager called the fire department, workers attempted to put the fire out with extinguishers. As patrons fled the flames, some workers tried to stop the spreading flames that were already catching the plastic tables and enclosure – eventually forcing them to retreat.
Fire officials said the on-scene commander immediately called a second alarm, bringing in 75 firefighters because of the threat to the occupied buildings above the restaurant.
A live broadcast of the fire could be seen on the Citizen App, where flames leaped into the sky nearly 30 feet as highly flammable plastics burned like gasoline, firefighters said. The fire was brought under control about an hour later, but by then, the blaze had destroyed the entire outdoor seating area, caused some damage to the interior and left a gapping hole in the boardwalk.
Residents walking by the next day were shaking their heads, many complaining that this was a “common problem.” Boris Umanov, a resident of Brighton Beach who eats at Tatiana’s, a Russian style restaurant, said it’s not the first fire to hit the restaurant row.
“We are very angry about the trash under the boardwalk,” she said. “We are worried – they are not doing s–t, we call the Parks Department and the community board nobody does s—t., There are people living underneath – that’s what did this.”
Fire officials confirmed that the fire started under the Boardwalk, apparently sparked by a discarded cigarette. The fire is still under investigation, an official said.
A more careful investigation by the Bklyner found that a gate was open on Brighton 6th Street and we were able to see what was under the Boardwalk.
Directly under Tatiana’s was the remains of a box spring and mattress, the springs still visible in a large pile of burnt debris, made up of old clothing and trash bags.
Further along under the boardwalk, black bags of trash and clothing were piled against the building lines.
Eddie Marks, district manager of Community Board 13 said the homeless living under the Boardwalk has “always been a problem, and it is something we need to pay more attention.”
The 60th Precinct does periodic spot checks under the Boardwalk and removes those who trespass, but it is a constant problem to monitor areas from Brighton Beach to the end of Coney Island, covering nearly 3 miles of specially obtained planks.
“The Parks Department does block it up, but they go back under to take shelter,” Marks said. “This will have to be constantly monitored because next time, it could be the Aquarium or the amusement area, so we have to keep abreast of it.”
Marks said the presence of the homeless has been an ongoing problem for many years and it has been a failure of the city to address this. “What are you going to do, arrest a homeless person and put them in a system that is already broken and into a criminal environment?” Marks asked. “These are people who may have become unemployed and lost shelter, or they are people with long term mental health needs and we are not doing our jobs to help them. In many cases, a family member has let them down and that is a shame and then people say they don’t want these people in their backyards – these people need proper treatment.”
Marks said the homeless sleep on benches, in building lobbies and on the streets during the warmer weather, but colder, inclement weather attracts them under the boardwalk.
“We have to secure it (the Boardwalk), this is a problem site and it’s not the first time nor will it be the last time, but it is an ongoing thing, hope it gets better, hopefully, this is the worst part,” Marks said. “We will find out how severe damage is, and what the city is going to do about it. They always claim they are understaffed, but this is emergency now and the season has started yesterday.”
The Parks Department had no comment as of press time. There have been numerous fires under the boardwalk over the years. Most notable, on September 19, 2003, a four-alarm blaze started under Boardwalk gutted the same restaurant and injured 20 people in the building and leaving many homeless. On February 12, 1997, three homeless people were killed in a shanty fire only two blocks away from this fire.