Most returning to burned Hempstead building
Hundreds of residents made homeless by a massive fire Sunday at Fulton Manor in Hempstead Village moved back into the complex on Friday.
In the building's parking lot, excitement grew when the landlord, Karan Singh, told the crowd of tenants, "Everyone on the F floor, you can start moving back at 2 p.m."
Gregory Waring, 31, cheered before he took the elevator to his floor. "I feel safe," he said. "It's raining outside and I'm finally inside."
Waring lives in one of 117 units that Singh deemed habitable. Six remain uninhabitable.
"Given the magnitude of the fire, moving people back after five days is nothing short of a miracle," Singh said in an interview earlier Friday.
Hundreds of frightened residents were evacuated Sunday evening as flames leaped up three floors of the building.
Tensions were high this week as tenants waited to return home, and the Hempstead Village police twice responded to disturbances.
Singh said he worked as quickly as possible to finish a safety process that involved the Nassau County fire marshal and Hempstead Village's building department. On Thursday, the fire marshal approved the building's standpipe, which failed a test earlier in the week, and inspections of all 123 apartments were finished Friday morning.
But for many tenants, a week seemed too long, and some complained that Singh was hardly present at the scene.
"He [didn't] even show his face or offer his condolences," said Karen Huff, 59.
Singh said Friday he was too focused on repairing the building to talk with tenants.
Days before the fire, Singh failed to complete a required emergency-lighting test, according to the fire marshal. However, there were no injuries resulting from faults in the building's safety system. "This is not the first time we've had problems with him," said Michael Uttaro, a supervisor with the fire marshal.
Singh denied that there is a pattern, saying he always acts quickly to fix problems.
A gas stove caused the fire, officials said. Singh said Friday that the stove was new and had been tested by his staff before a tenant moved in last week.
The fire marshal is still investigating how the stove caught fire.