Sunday, February 1, 2009

Jamaica Fire Claims Life of Elderly Man by Ivan Pereira and Christina Santucci -

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Firefighters head into the scorched remains of a Jamaica home, where an elderly man was found dead. Photo by Christina Santucci

A pair of unrelated fires struck two Queens homes, killing a Jamaica senior citizen Monday night and critically injuring a family in Woodhaven early Tuesday morning, authorities said.

Around 8 p.m. Monday, a blaze ripped through a dilapidated two−story frame house with Collyer’s Mansion conditions at 111−36 143 St. in Jamaica, according to police. After extinguishing the fire, firefighters discovered an elderly tenant unconscious and unresponsive on the second floor, police said.

A few minutes later, EMS crews pronounced the man, Henry Ward, dead at the scene. The FDNY said it was investigating the cause of the fire, which took place in a house filled with signs and decorations that praised the work of African−American scientists and inventors.

One of the signs read: “The accomplishment[s] of my ancestors should be celebrate[d] every day and not limited to the month of February.”

Mark Simon, who lived next door to Ward for nearly 14 years, said he was a Vietnam War veteran and kept to himself.

“If you walk by, you can see he has a lot of newspapers and stuff like that,” he said. “All of my life I’m living here, I’m used to seeing him raking leaves or sitting on the steps. Knowing I’m not going to see him anymore is a little strange.”

Hours later, a fire broke out at the second floor of a Woodhaven apartment building at 97−12 93 St., the FDNY said. Firefighters took nearly 45 minutes to put out the fire, which started around 4:50 a.m. and engulfed all three floors of the building, firefighters said.

Five people were injured in the fire, including a mother and her two children, according to firefighters. They were immediately taken to Mary Immaculate Hospital and Jamaica Hospital, according to the FDNY. All five were later transferred to New York−Presbyterian’s burn unit and were listed in critical condition, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

Another unidentified tenant was treated at the scene and released, firefighters said.

Julio Barbecho and his wife were on the first floor and escaped the fire.

“We were sleeping. We smelled the smoke and ran out. The people on the second floor called the police,” said Barbecho’s wife, who did not give her first name.

The cause of the fire was under investigation as of Tuesday, the FDNY said.

Barbecho said the injured family had lived in the building for about nine years.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.