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3-alarm Richmond Hill fire guts home, damages others

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The blaze started at around 11:30 a.m. as a one-alarm fire at 132-18 101st St. and grew within 20 minutes to a three-alarm fire, said Lt. Patrick Cleary, a spokesman for the city's Fire Department.

"I heard the fire alarm, and by the time I got out the whole place was filled with smoke," said Gordon, 30, a first-floor tenant of the house destroyed by the blaze.

Gordon, who preferred not to give his last name, said he and two other family members who live with him were in the living room when the fire started in a front bedroom, setting off a smoke alarm.

Everyone fled the house quickly, and nobody was hurt, Gordon said.

Gordon did not know what could have caused the fire in the bedroom. An electric heater in the bedroom may have been plugged in, but it was not turned on, he said.

Cleary said the fire may have spread quickly after getting into the cockloft, an open space above the ceiling and below the roof where flames tend to travel fast.

About 140 firefighters responded to the blaze, and the fire was brought under control by 12:13 p.m., Cleary said. The cause of the fire was being investigated.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries and were treated at Mary Immaculate Hospital.

Lakhwinder Singh of Richmond Hill was supposed to move into the apartment above Gordon with his wife and three children on Jan. 31. On Saturday, he received a call from his landlord telling him that she would refund him his $850 deposit because the house had burned down.

"I am lucky because I have three babies," said Singh, who came by the house with a friend after learning about the fire. "To have them come with me out of the burning house would have been difficult."

In the attached house to the right of Gordon's, Carlo Recine, 42, did not consider himself so lucky. His house had burned less than a year ago after a candle fell down and set off a fire, and he had just finished repairing the windows, which were broken by firefighters.

"The only thing I'm glad and happy about is that I was able to get everybody out in time," said Recine, who lives with his wife and three children. "We were having breakfast and we smelled smoke. We thought it was in our house again."

Recine's ceiling was damaged by his neighbor's fire.

To the left of Gordon's house, Teresa Ostermeier, 82, rummaged through her possessions upstairs as insurance agents examined the first floor of her house, where her front door lay in the middle of the living room, surrounded by wet, charred wood chips.

Wearing a fur coat and red hat, Ostermeier said she had just returned home from the beauty parlor when she smelled smoke. She went into her cellar and found it filled with smoke. She then left her house and went to a neighbor's home to make phone calls.

"I've lived here 56, 57 years, and I've never had anything like this," Ostermeier said as water dripped from her ruined ceiling.

Ostermeier said she would stay with family members temporarily, as did Recine and Gordon.

A few houses down from the extinguished fire, Recine's daughter, Antela Recine, 8, did not seem concerned about the damages from the blaze.

When asked where she was going to live now, she said, "I don't know," and continued to make snow angels in her neighbor's front yard.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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