Families Reeling After Losing Almost Everything In Queens Apartment Building Fire

Some families in New York City are reeling after they lost almost everything they owned in a fire that ripped through their Queens apartment building Tuesday; CBS2's Christina Fan reports.

Video Transcript

DANA TYLER: Some families in New York City are reeling tonight after they lost almost everything they owned. It was all destroyed in a fire that ripped through their apartment building in Jackson Heights yesterday. Here's a live look at the building tonight, charred-- a shell of concrete and brick. CBS 2's Christina Phan explains it is a devastating blow to a community already hit hard by the pandemic.

CHRISTINA PHAN: Devastated families returned to this Queens apartment complex Wednesday, hoping to salvage something, anything, inside. The loss is so raw, many stood near the corner of 89th street on 34th Avenue, on the verge of breaking down.

ANDREW SOKOLOF DIAZ: We're all reeling from this. Like, kids don't have clothes. Like, we're completely empty. We have nothing.

CHRISTINA PHAN: Firefighters say much of the damage could have been prevented. But residents waited at least 10 minutes after smelling smoke to call 911. That delay was compounded by the fact the door to the sixth floor unit where the fire started was left open, allowing the flames to quickly spread into the hallway and cockloft, where it became uncontrollable.

DANIEL NIGRO: Please, if you have a fire in your home and your apartment, and you have to leave, close that door and keep that fire contained. Our first units were met in the hall with heavy fire, and were unable to push their lines as much as they tried. And three members were burned trying.

CHRISTINA PHAN: About 240 people lived inside this 133 unit building, many of them immigrant families and essential workers. Martin Barrera aches for his mother, who lived here for 23 years.

MARTIN BARRERA: For them, this is all they had. It's not some, or you know, I could move somewhere. It's all they had.

CHRISTINA PHAN: Community activists and the tenants association are asking for donations to help families find permanent lodging. They say temporary housing from the Red Cross will run out in just a few days.

ANDREW SOKOLOF DIAZ: We're really afraid that we're going to be forgotten in the mix, and in the middle of a pandemic, even worse.

CHRISTINA PHAN: Families already struggling with food insecurity and job insecurity now on the verge of being homeless, too. In Jackson Heights, Queens, Christina Phan, CBS 2 News.

DANA TYLER: The cause of the fire is still under investigation. But firefighters say it does not appear to be suspicious. If you'd like to help those families who've been displaced, we have information on our website, cbsnewyork.com. Just click on links and numbers on the home page.