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Hardware store reopens after deadly Astoria blaze

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An Astoria hardware store has reopened in a nearby warehouse after it was destroyed in a deadly Father’s Day explosion, which fire officials said was accidentally ignited by two teenagers who have not been criminally charged.

The explosion ripped through the Long Island General Supply store at 12-22 Astoria Blvd., killing three firefighters and injuring 59.

Long Island General has resumed operations for wholesale clients — who make up 90 percent of its business — in a nearby warehouse formerly used for storage, said Gerard Misk, the store’s attorney.

“We don’t know how much business has dropped off since then,” Misk said. “We’re hoping to keep most of the wholesale customers.”

The hardware store was purchased some four decades ago by Alec Gordon, who passed on the business to his sons Robin and Randy, Misk said. The elder Gordon died only two weeks before the explosion destroyed the building, which was erected around 1876 and was christened Long Island General Supply 75 years ago.

“It’s very tough on them obviously,” Misk said of the family’s reaction to the fire. “The most upsetting thing was that three people died in there trying to protect their property, and they’re very thankful for that and obviously very sad about it as well.”

The Gordon family hopes their insurance coverage will enable them to rebuild the store, Misk said, but because officials are investigating, insurance adjusters have not yet been allowed at the site.

The Fire Department investigation has determined that two teenage boys accidentally ignited the fire after one of them tripped over a can of gasoline in the yard behind the store, FDNY spokesman David Billig said. The gasoline seeped underneath a basement door and down a staircase, where the gas fumes were ignited by a pilot light at the base of a water heater.

“The fluid doesn’t necessarily always cause a fire,” Billig said. “The vapors play a big role.”

Billig confirmed reports that “either they were scrounging for supplies to write graffiti or writing graffiti” when the can was upturned.

The fire was considered accidental and at press time no charges had been filed against the boys said to be responsible for the blaze, Billig said.

The explosion killed firefighters Harry Ford, 50, of Rescue Co. 4; John J. Downing, 40, of Ladder Co. 163; and Brian Fahey, 46, of Rescue Co. 4.

Lt. Brendan Manning and Firefighter Joseph Vosilla have made significant progress since they were first rushed with serious injuries to the hospital nearly a month ago.

Manning was released June 28 from the Cornell Burn Center in Manhattan after an 11-day stay, hospital spokeswoman Tracy Hickenbottom said. At a news conference held at Fire Department headquarters in Brooklyn shortly after his release, Manning said he forgives the two teens.

“Kids are kids,” he said. “I really don’t feel they meant any harm.”

Elmhurst Hospital spokesman Dario Centorcelli said Vosilla is stable in the surgical intensive care unit following major surgery to reconstruct his pelvic region, which was severely damaged when he was crushed beneath the rubble. Although Vosilla has been suffering from pneumonia for the past few weeks, Centorcelli said he has been removed from his ventilator and is showing gradual improvement.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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