MIDWOOD – Three century-old Midwood homes were destroyed early this morning when a suspicious four-alarm fire raced through the massive wood-frame houses, injuring 13 people, fire officials said.
Ten of the injured were civilians evacuated from their burning homes, but none of their injuries were life-threatening. Three firefighters also suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze.
Fire marshals are now looking at a video from across the street that shows a person running from in front of the house shortly before the fire broke out. The house where the fire started is owned by a noted local rabbi.
The fire broke out shortly after 4 a.m. in 1492 East 17th Street, a three-story Queen Anne style house that was constructed in 1912. [We originally reported the fire started at 1488 E17th Street, however, that is the house that called in the fire they saw next door first]. Fire officials said firefighters found heavy fire in that house, but the fire was also rapidly spreading to two neighboring homes of the same type of construction – 1488 and 1494 East 17th Street.
The fire quickly went to multiple alarms, bringing in more than 150 firefighters at the height of the conflagration. Firefighters had to carry out one resident from one of the burning buildings, but all residents and their pets escaped certain death. Neighbors said the flames were so high, they could be seen for miles away.
“I usually get up during the night and I smelled smoke, as I went into the dining room, I saw flames from next door, and we got right out,” said Rosanne Bruschi, 79, a resident of the block for 41 years – since she was married at age 38.
She sat with a Red Cross blanket around her with her landlord’s dog, Caramia, a beige poodle. Her landlord and friend Joe Lanni meanwhile was being treated for injuries after he tripped over a firehouse, one of many stretched to fight the fire.
“My window was filled with flames, I could see it. The flames from next door were shining through my windows,” she said. “Yes, I had everything in there, but nothing was important. Important is we all got out.”
Victoria Roydman, a neighbor from across the street, said her daughter woke her to warn of the fire.
“I heard the fire trucks and my daughter said there as a huge fire across the street,” Roydman said. “We came out and saw the house on fire, and a minute later, the fire jumped to the next roof. Only a corner was burning and then a few minutes later, the whole house. We were afraid it might catch onto the trees and really spread.”
Roydman said they were more concerned about the occupants. “We knew they had a dog and young children, but thankfully, they all got out,” she said.
Alexandra Holt lives next to one of the homes that was destroyed and she had worried her house would be next as the entire row of homes was built around 1912. She said she’s lived here for 30 years, but her husband grew up on the street and has lived there for more than 70 years.
“I heard screaming in the street and went out to my porch and there were flames all over the place,” Holt said. “They are old houses and they can burn.”
Patti Lanni sat on a chair outside her neighbor’s home and she worried about her husband joe Lanni who had tripped over a fire hose while watching firefighters.
“It’s just terrible – I don’t know where I’m going to go,” Lanni said as her neighbor held her dog. “I’m so scared. I don’t know what we are going to do.”
Fire marshals were on scene later in the morning, trying to determine how the fire started, but officials are now calling the fire ‘suspicious.’
These houses are especially prone to fires as their old wood construction makes them burn light a “book of matches.” Fire officials urged residents to continually check their smoke detectors to prevent serious injury from quickly spreading fires.
Other similar early morning fires that have occurred in the community include one on Dec. 18, 2017 on East 14th Street, where three children and their mother died in a fire traced to an unattended Chanukah menorah. On March 22, 2015, seven children from one family were killed in a house fire on Bedford Avenue caused by a hotplate left on in a kitchen. Those houses, too, were similar construction and trapped the occupants.