Massive Sunset Park fire ruled accidental, caused by unattended candle, says FDNY

The massive six-alarm fire that engulfed 702 44th Street, displaced over 50 families, injured firefighters and civilians, and killed pets was due to an unattended lit candle, according to the FDNY. 

“FDNY fire marshals have determined that the April 3, 2019, 6-alarm fire at 702 44th Street in Brooklyn was accidental, caused by an unattended candle,” FDNY posted on its Facebook page on Monday, July 8. “Four civilians suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the fire, and 23 firefighters suffered injuries ranging from smoke inhalation to burns. Dozens of families were displaced. FDNY urges New Yorkers to NEVER leave burning candles unattended. Place candles at least four feet away from all combustibles, including curtains and bedding, and consider using battery-operated, flameless candles instead.”

Tenants already had an inkling of the cause of the conflagration, one said.

“Everyone kind of knew from the beginning that one of the neighbors on the sixth floor had lit a candle and left it unattended,” the person said. “Everyone feels bad about this. I can’t imagine how they’re feeling. It must be horrible. The Fire Department confirmed what everyone heard and knew.

“It was a bad accident,” the tenant added, made worse by the windy weather on the day of the blaze, as well as because of the structure of the building, which “had a little attic between the sixth floor and the roof. All those things contributed to a bad situation. It’s an unfortunate accident and we all wish it could be different.

“It affected us all in profound ways,” the tenant noted. “A lot of people are hurting now because of it.”

For the Sunset Park BID, “The focus” has always been “on support for the residents,” said Executive Director of the Sunset Park Business Improvement District David Estrada. “We always assumed the cause of the fire was accidental, but it’s always important when the Fire Department gives a determination. The impact on the residents displaced is the same outcome.”

The day after the fire, the BID created the Sunset Park 44th Street Fire Community Fund. Since then, it has surpassed its original goal of raising $125,000, generating $134,665. One hundred percent of all net funds raised will be evenly distributed among the surviving households.

“The generosity has been amazing,” said Estrada, adding there have been nearly 1,700 different donors. “The number is actually higher because one of those numbers represents people that participated in raffles at a fundraiser. Businesses gave generously. It’s really inspiring how many people have come out to help.”

So far, the BID has already distributed about  $114,000 to more than 40 of the households. 

“The households receive about $2,600 each,” he said. “If there are any lingering or last-minute donations, or if anybody declines because they don’t need it, we will take that remainder and distribute it as well.”

Despite the help, there are still several families that continue to struggle.

“From my perspective, just speaking with people casually, some people are settled in other apartments, but some are still scrambling and really having a challenge, especially people who are in rent-controlled settings or condo owners,” Estrada said. “It’s not so easy on the open market now because it’s terribly expensive. People are still struggling and they’re going to continue struggling until they’re back home. It may take years until that building is back together again.”

The timeline for rebuilding is also complex, depending on the pending insurance settlement and an engineering report. 

“That’s going to drive how long it takes to get people back home,” Estrada said. “It’s not unreasonable to assume it will be 18 to 24 months before people are back home.” 

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