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Officials: Tenant-landlord spat led to fire that killed 3

A fire in East Elmhurst, Queens, on Wednesday

A fire in East Elmhurst, Queens, on Wednesday left three people dead and two more injured, the FDNY said. Photo Credit: FDNY

A dispute between an apparently emotionally disturbed transient tenant and the landlord of an East Elmhurst home led to a fire that killed three people Wednesday, including the lodger who started the blaze, law enforcement officials said.

The fast-moving fire at the home on 93rd Street was reported at  4:11 p.m. Wednesday and  began after the tenant ignited gasoline he had poured in the kitchen area, law enforcement officials said. The blaze killed the alleged arsonist, David Abreu Nunez, 23, and two others, including a 6-year-old girl, officials said. Two other people were seriously hurt.

Nunez had arrived at the home a few days earlier from the Dominican Republic, and had the permission of the property owner to stay until he found a more permanent residence, said law enforcement officials who asked not to be identified. But after learning from neighbors that Nunez was acting erratically, the homeowner asked him to leave, the officials said.

Angered over being thrown out, Nunez started the fire. FDNY personnel removed Claudio Rodriguez, 76, and his granddaughter, Emma Dominguez, 6, from the burning structure. Rodriguez was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Queens while Emma and Nunez were declared dead at the scene, the officials said.

Emma’s mother, Elizabeth Rodriguez, 35, and her 10-month-old son, Liam, were also taken to the hospital and were still being treated late Thursday for extensive burns, the officials said. The building owner, identified in city property records as Rafelina Moreno, couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

In a statement issued Thursday, the FDNY declared that the fire was intentionally set, with an “ignitable liquid” used as an accelerant.  Law enforcement officials confirmed the liquid was gasoline and said the investigation was continuing.

 Nunez was probably caught by surprise and burned to death by the explosive plume that erupted when he lit the gasoline, said one of the officials

The three deaths, coupled with an unrelated shooting Wednesday, pushed the day's homicide total in the city to four, compared with only one on the same day in 2018, according to police statistics. For the year to date, the city homicide total was 148, compared with 164 in the same period last year, a drop of 10 percent. 

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