Firefighters at 955 E. 163rd Street the day after a three-alarm blaze broke out.

Longwood fire leaves about 20 homeless

A three-alarm fire erupted around 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 8 in a five-story building at 955 East 163rd Street in Longwood, damaging many of the apartments and leaving close to 20 residents homeless.

Firefighters at 955 E. 163rd Street the day after a three-alarm blaze broke out.

Some residents question landlord’s safety measures

A three-alarm fire erupted around 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 8  in a five-story building at 955 E. 163rd St. in Longwood, damaging many of the apartments and leaving close to 20 residents homeless.

The blaze began in a vacant apartment that was under construction on the fifth floor and spread to the roof. No residents were hurt, but six firemen were sent to the hospital for minor injuries, according to the fire department. 

Although the reason for the blaze is still unknown, residents of the building speculate that the cause was electrical and that the landlord and management company, PRC Management, could have prevented it.

Three weeks ago, new circuit breakers were put in all of the apartments. But after the installation, the breakers would randomly spark and lights would flicker on and off in some apartments, residents said. One tenant, Elizabeth Feliz, said she and others complained to management about the problem, but their complaints were ignored.

“They said there was nothing they could do about it,” Feliz said.

PRC Management did not immediately return calls from The Express for comment.

Longtime local housing advocate Joyce Campbell-Culler, who lives in another building managed by PRC Management on Simpson Street, said the company receives money from the city to renovate buildings, then hires subcontractors who charge the lowest rates – even if they are unqualified to do the work.

“Once the work is done, the city doesn’t come to investigate the work or any problems,” Campbell-Culler said. “There’s no oversight.”

She added that with cold weather right around the corner, tenants will be using electric heaters, raising the risk of more fires if there are lingering electrical problems that are not resolved.

Residents were forced out of their apartments shortly after 8 p.m

Most residents were allowed back into their apartments around 11 on Thursday evening, but those who live on the fifth floor were told they might have to wait a week or more before they could return. Displaced residents were directed to a nearby Red Cross shelter.

One tenant, Francesca Anderson, said she was scrambling to find a friend she could stay with because she couldn’t stand to spend another night at the shelter.

“It’s worse than a crack house,” she said. “You wouldn’t put a dog in there.”

Outside the building, residents stood around with pillowcases stuffed with their belongings, waiting to hear back from friends or of news regarding their apartments. Resident Jennifer Reyna said a man had been recently been doing repairs in her apartment, and noticed that her circuit breaker looked defective. Reyna said that she contacted the management company to inform them of the problem but never heard back.

“I’m still waiting,” she said. “And the lights are still flickering.”

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