Kerry Burke , Thomas Tracy and John Annese
New York Daily News
A 6-year-old girl and two men are dead and a mother and her infant son are clinging to life after a fire tore through their Queens home Wednesday afternoon in what fire department sources told the Daily News was a case of arson.
FDNY sources said that one of the dead, a 23-year-old man taken in by the homeowner, is thought to have started the blaze by tampering with a stove or lighting gasoline in the kitchen.
The homeowner took the man in because he had nowhere else to stay, but he became “increasingly agitated and weird,” and he fought with the homeowner’s family earlier in the day, one FDNY source said.
The two-alarm blaze broke out on the second-floor of a two-story house on 93rd St. at 23rd Ave. in East Elmhurst at about 4:10 p.m. A first-floor tenant heard the smoke alarm upstairs, officials said, and called 911.
Two people had already escaped the burning house when firefighters arrived four minutes later, but they were critically injured, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters. Three more people were still inside.
Firefighters found a 6-year-old girl dead at the scene, Nigro said.
Sources identified the deceased as Emma Dominguez, 6, her grandfather Claudio Rodriguez, 76, and Daniel Abreu-Nunez, 23. They said Emma’s mom, Elizabeth Rodriguez, 35, and her 10-month-old brother, Liam Dominguez, were in critical condition at the Cornell Burn Center in Manhattan.
The NYPD said late Wednesday that the 23-year-old man was pronounced dead at the scene, and that the 76-year-old was taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital-Queens, where he was pronounced dead.
Sources said most of the victims were visiting from the Dominican Republic. Late on Wednesday, police sources said the infant had life-threatening injuries and his mother was critical but stable.
“It’s quite unusual at that time in the afternoon to have a fire trap five occupants in a private dwelling,” Nigro said.
William Martin Jr., 82, described the scene as “bedlam.”
“It was all smoke until they pushed the boom ladder into the window, and then it was flame,” he said, adding that firefighters also broke through the front door. ““Once that fire got a gulp of oxygen it was a backdraft.”
Martin watched as firefighters took two victims from the house. “Two firefighters went in and brought out a person, and they began artificial respiration in the yard,” he said. “Then they brought out another. They weren’t responding.There wasn’t any response that indicated life.”
Fire marshals and arson investigators are looking into what caused the blaze, Nigro said, but he stopped short of saying it was intentionally set.
“Without an obvious accidental cause we treat it as a suspicious fire,” he said.
Firefighters brought the blaze under control at about 5:20 p.m.
The home’s owner, Rafelina Moreno, stood outside her burnt house Wednesday night and told the Daily News, “Don’t help anybody. I tried to help somebody and look how they repaid me. They burned my home,” she said, without elaborating.
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