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A three-alarm fire raced through four apartments in the Windsor Oaks apartment complex in Bayside last week, destroying victims' cherished memorabilia and leaving nine people homeless.
"I grew up here my whole life," said Maureen Avione, crying as she ran barefoot onto the lawn of the apartment complex's courtyard shortly after learning about the fire July 16. "My father passed away. All the memorabilia from my father is in the apartment."
Avione's mother, Dolores Malone, lived by herself in the two-bedroom apartment on the first floor of the two-story brick building at 217-24 73rd Ave., above a basement boiler which fire officials said was being repaired when the blaze broke out.
According to fire Commander Patrick McNally, the fire, which started at around 1:30 p.m., may have been caused by sparks from propane torches that men were using to do plumbing work related to the boiler. The fire spread into the floorboards of the first floor and into the walls of the building, said McNally.
About 138 firefighters battled the blaze, which was brought under control at around 4:05 p.m., said fire officials. The fire was contained within two attached two-story buildings with a total of four apartment units.
Nobody was in the four apartments when the fire broke out, said McNally. The nine people who lived in the apartments were all accounted for by mid-afternoon, but their homes were left uninhabitable.
Six firefighters suffered minor injuries and were treated at local hospitals, McNally said.
The brick wall at back of the buildings began to buckle and then collapsed at around 3:45 p.m. The collapse did not affect the stability of the buildings because the wall was only a facade for the wood-framed homes, said McNally.
Avione and her brother, Thomas Malone, watched in shock as firefighters broke the windows of the apartment belonging to their mother's upstairs neighbor.
"I lived in this place for 26 years," said Thomas Malone, 30, who now lives across the street from his mother with his wife. "There's stuff in there you just can't replace - the pictures, just the memories of growing up. To me, the most important possession would be my father's flag from his coffin."
Thomas Malone said his father was a sergeant in the Marines and died 11 years ago after serving in Lebanon.
A crowd of neighbors gathered on the sunny summer day to watch firefighters battle the blaze, making calls on their cell phones and drinking iced tea and water dispensed by a Salvation Army truck.
"Thank God nobody is hurt," said Judith Seifert, who tried to comfort Malone and her family as they stood in the smoke watching their home burn.
Seifert, who has lived at 217-16 73rd Ave. for 31 years, said residents of the 24 co-op apartments that form a unit around a grassy courtyard are very friendly with each other.
"This is not a transient neighborhood," said Thomas Malone. "People have raised their children here. We're all here for each other."
Steve Esposito, the manager of the 897-unit Windsor Oaks complex, said residents of the apartments affected by the blaze would be put up in hotels for as long as necessary if they chose not to stay elsewhere with friends or family.
Esposito said the men who were working on the boiler had been hired from an outside company by Windsor Oaks management. Residents had not had hot water at nighttime for the two days preceding the fire while the boiler was being fixed.
Celeste Dippel, 46, whose second-floor apartment burned in the fire, appeared calm as she sat on a bench making phone calls after rescuing her pet parakeet, JoJo, from the blaze.
"There's certain things in life you have control of and there's certain things you don't, and me wigging out right now is not going to help," said Dippel.
Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by email at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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