An investigation into a deadly fire at a multifamily residence in Queens, New York, that killed three people this weekend has reportedly found evidence of arson.
FDNY sources told the New York Post that man seen was entering and leaving the building shortly before the fire broke out at the Elmhurst apartment building early Saturday morning. An FDNY dog reportedly detected evidence of an accelerant, casting doubt on a preliminary investigation that suggested the deadly blaze was the result of an electrical issue.
Three people died on Saturday after they were unable to escape the flames. A neighbor told the Daily News that he saw two men trying to escape through a locked door and gate that led to a patio.
“I watched two guys die right in front of me because I saw the smoke surround them and suffocate them. They couldn’t get past the metal door,” the witness said. “I saw the black smoke just cover them.”
Another source told the Daily News that the men who died were never given a key to the door that kept them trapped in the burning building.
“I even asked the landlord about it, but he just said he lost the key,” the source said.
As the New York Post reports, at least eight people were reportedly living in the building, which had a number of illegally-divided single-occupancy basement units before it went into foreclosure, and was recently sold at an auction. In 2019, according to ABC 7 New York, the building illegally housed dozens of people.
According to the Daily News, the new owners took over earlier this year and allegedly turned off the heat and hot water in order to force people out of the building. The building’s former super told the newspaper that the city ultimately ordered the owners to turn the utilities back on.
NYC housing authorities have reportedly issued numerous citations for building violations over the years. Most recently, the NYC Department of Buildings issued a violation to the owner after a May inspection found that a front yard had been paved over, which is against zoning laws.
A tenant who survived the fire reportedly jumped out an upper-floor window. One firefighter suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
The New York Post reports that police have issued a search warrant for the property. It is unclear at this time if authorities have identified the man seen entering the building Saturday morning.
This is a developing story. CrimeOnline will provide further updates when more information is available.
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