The Chinatown fire that ripped through an apartment building, critically injuring two people and leaving 200 people temporarily homeless, may have claimed its first life.
The body of an elderly man was pulled from the top floor of the six-story building on Grand Street just before 8:30 p.m. Monday, according to Fire Department spokesman Jim Long.
The victim, whose name has not yet been released, had been reported missing by relatives, Long said. The Medical Examiner is to determine the exact cause of death.
The fire started around 10:15 p.m. Sunday on the first floor of the residential and commercial building and spread through a shaft to the roof before reaching three other buildings. It burned for more than four hours before being declared under control at 2:20 a.m. Monday.
Two apartment buildings that were damaged by the fire will likely have to be demolished, according to city Department of Buildings spokesman Tony Sclafani.
“It appears at this time that both buildings will have to demolished due to significant fire damage,” said Tony Sclafani. The buildings, 283 and 285 Grand St. in Chinatown, have been structurally compromised, he said.
By midmorning, the street remained closed and the cause of the fire was still under investigation. All four buildings were evacuated, Long said.
“There are three buildings that are gone,” he said, adding that a building next to where the fire started had the least amount of damage.
The critically injured patients suffered smoke inhalation, Fire Chief Edward Kilduff said.
They include an 86-year-old woman taken to Beth Israel Medical Center and another elderly resident taken to New York Downtown Hospital. Long did not know the condition of the third civilian or an emergency medical technician who also was injured.
About 30 firefighters were treated at hospitals for injuries not considered life-threatening, he said. Two or three were being treated for minor burns.
The Red Cross set up a reception center at a school to help displaced families, spokeswoman Marianne Darlak said. There were 171 adults and 37 children at the center, which closed at 6 a.m., she said.
The Red Cross provided temporary housing to 27 families — 72 adults and 20 children, she said. The agency is also offering health and mental health services.
“It’s sad,” said Steven Tin, director of the Better Chinatown Society and the owner of a furniture store. “Unfortunately, in Chinatown, the buildings are so old. It’s overcrowded. If something happens like a fire, it’s always very dangerous.”
Last year, an extension cord ignited a blaze that tore through an apartment building there, killing two people and injuring at least 27.
One woman who jumped from a third-floor window to the ground was hurt, and two others apparently jumped from the roof of the burning building to the roof next door. Eight firefighters suffered minor injuries.
City Councilwoman Margaret Chin said the city needs to encourage residents to file complaints and work on stronger code enforcement.
“The situation doesn’t look that good,” Chin said. “It’s just another sad example of these old buildings in very bad condition.”
Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, described the buildings as tenements with businesses on the first floor. He said he’s concerned about aging wiring and leaky plumbing in the buildings.
He said his organization will organize a clothing drive and start raising money for the displaced residents.
Grand Street, where the fire took place, is a major thoroughfare for the Lower East Side and Chinatown.