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NYFD still seeks exact cause of Father’s Day fire

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Fire officials were still investigating the cause of a Father’s Day fire that started in an Astoria hardware store and exploded, killing three firefighters and injuring 59 others.

Fire marshals so far have “accepted what the kids who were playing had as an explanation,” Battalion Chief Brian Dixon said Monday.

Officials believe two boys, 13 and 15, who were visiting the neighborhood may have accidentally tipped over an open can of gasoline into the hardware store’s cellar. A nearby hot water heater pilot light then ignited the gasoline, officials believe.

The exact cause was still not known by press time, but investigators have ruled out propane, Dixon said.

Fire marshals also looked into whether the fire was started by “burn graffiti” — spraying lighter fluid onto a wall, igniting it and burning in a design — but they found no evidence of it, Dixon said.

The 75-year-old hardware store and three apartments above it caught fire just after 2 p.m. Sunday, June 17. The store was closed at the time, and residents living above were quickly evacuated by firefighters.

At about 2:15, while firefighters were inside the building combating flames, an explosion tore out the front wall of the building, raining mounds of bricks and rubble onto the firefighters below.

Officials were still treating the fire as an accident. And the district attorney has not filed charges, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said.

Funerals were held last week for the three firefighters killed in the explosion: Harry Ford, 50, and Brian Fahey, 46, both of Rescue Co. 4, and John J. Downing, 40, of Ladder Co. 163.

Firefighter Joseph Vosilla, who was critically injured with burns and fractures, underwent orthopedic surgery on his pelvis at Elmhurst Hospital Monday, said hospital spokesman Dario Centorcelli. He remained in stable but critical condition.

Firefighter Brendan Manning was taken to New York Weill Cornell Medical Center’s burn unit in stable condition. Manning was soon transferred from the burn intensive care unit to the burn “step-down” ward and was in stable condition, said Tracy Hickenbottom, a hospital spokeswoman.

A fund established by the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the New York Post has raised nearly $200,000 for the families of the three firefighters killed, the Post reported Tuesday.

Randall and Robert Gordon, the brothers who own Long Island General Supply, the hardware store at 12-22 Astoria Blvd., where the fire began, were insured against fire, their attorney, Gerard Misk said.

“They have insurance but we’re not sure how much of it will cover their loss,” Misk said. “They’re doing their best to put the pieces back together now.”

Misk said the brothers had not decided whether they will rebuild on the original Astoria Boulevard site or move to a new location.

While they would prefer to rebuild, that will depend on how much they receive from the insurance company and whether they can afford the reconstruction, Misk said.

The Gordons are currently working out of rented warehouse space around the corner from the store’s site.

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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