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Fire razes two Housing Authority apartments

Child playing with matches cause of Sunnyside blaze

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Sunnyside firefighters douse flames at a fire in a duplex owned by the Sunnyside Housing Authority. The fire started just after 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

Two families are displaced after a fire broke out in a Sunnyside Housing Authority apartment complex at the back end of Reeves Way. The blaze ate though two apartments before Sunnyside firefighters were able to contain it.

The fire is believed to have started in apartment Q, but quickly spread through the attic to apartment R.

"It burnt the roof off," said Sunnyside Fire Department Battalion Chief Lloyd Hazzard, who added that in his opinion the damage to the building was not enough to consider the structure a total loss. He said that most of the structure and its contents sustained smoke and water damage.

While fire personnel were fighting the blaze the roof started collapsing, making the building unstable. Hazzard notified the firefighters to evacuate the building via a long blast of the fire truck horn. Firefighters continued to extinguish the blaze, spraying water into the flaming building from outside the structure.

According to Hazzard, the fire has been deemed accidental. It is believed to have been started by a child playing with matches, he said. The blaze was started in one of the bedrooms of the apartment.

The residents of apartment R were not at home when the fire started. They later returned to find their apartment with fire shooting from the roof.

The residents of apartment Q were at home when the fire started, said Hazzard. He added that one of the residents from the apartment collapsed at the scene.

"She ran out of breath because she had a lot of smoke inhalation," said Hazzard.

She was treated at the scene with oxygen and taken to Sunnyside Community Hospital for evaluation.

Maria Dolores Ramos, who along with her mother and five brothers and sisters lived in apartment R, returned to her home in time to watch it burn, from a neighbor's apartment across the street.

She said that none of her family was at home at the time the fire started. Five members of the Ramos family were working in the fields and the other two were at another apartment in the complex.

Ramos' family had been living in the housing authority apartment for the past four years. She said they had recently gone back-to-school shopping and all of their new school clothes were in the apartment, along with everything else they owned.

Ramos was unsure of the family's plans.

"We have no place to go," she said.

According to Ketha Kimbrough, Sunnyside Housing Authority executive director, these last two weeks were the first time the agency has had apartments severely damaged by fire. The loss to the circa 1974 duplex is estimated at $160,000. An additional $20,000 in property loss is estimated. This is the second major fire the Sunnyside Housing Authority has had in one of its apartments in the past two weeks. The other fire occurred in an apartment on South Sixth Street. The fire was contained to one apartment in the duplex.

"We've had the minor things when someone leaves a pan on the stove," said Kimbrough.

She said that the Housing Authority will be working with the families to help find alternative housing.

"It won't be furnished and it won't have clothes," she said.

In the case of the fire that occurred about two weeks ago, the Red Cross assisted the family that was displaced. The Red Cross was also called to assist the two families who lost their homes Wednesday.

"One of the families already gave notice that they would be moving on the 17th," said Kimbrough.

The two apartments are part of the 285 housing units in the Lower Valley managed by the Sunnyside Housing Authority.

"Fortunately, nobody was hurt," said Kimbrough.

The Red Cross was called to provide emergency assistance to the families. According to Hazzard, both families were provided a place to sleep for the night.

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