OZONE PARK, Queens (PIX11) — The flames were so intense, they melted the siding off the building and burned the surveillance cameras to a crisp.
A vacate order and boarded-up windows at location on 98th Street and 101st Avenue are the aftermath of a fire that killed a 93-year-old woman on Friday. Now, the FDNY says their Fire Marshals have determined the cause is a lithium-ion battery.
Residents say they warned the city two years ago, the building owned by a computer repair specialist, was a fire waiting to happen.
“We were worried there was going to be a fire for the amount of computers, laptops, and cellphones he had in there. It wasn’t just one or two, it was hundreds. I don’t know if he went into the E-battery business but based on the number of people going into the building it’s possible,” said Sam Esposito, the head of the Ozone Park Residents Block Association.
That possibility is now confirmed by a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Buildings, which tells PIX11 News the building’s cellar was being used as an e-bike repair shop.
DOB inspectors also determined the first floor had been illegally converted into an apartment with a constructed loft for sleeping quarters. The illegally partitioned structure became a two-story deathtrap for the elderly victim.
Maria Rodriguez narrowly escaped by hanging out of a window.
“It was horrible, a horrible feeling. I got my dog I got my husband, family, and I am alive,” said Rodriguez.
Fire officials say a separate, three-alarm fire on Friday in the Bronx was also caused by a lithium-ion battery, despite numerous efforts by the fire department, city officials, and the mayor to crack down on E-bike violations.
In July, members of New York City’s Small Business Services went door to door to educate business owners in Chinatown and the Lower East Side to train on best practices for charging and using lithium-ion batteries.
Mayor Eric Adams is urging New Yorkers to report any lithium-ion battery dangers and illegal repair shops to 311.
At the scene in Queens, a man told PIX11 News off-camera that he worked at an office in the building.
He declined to answer questions about the e-bike shop but said he had just stepped out when the fire started, and he is happy to be alive.