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Springfield Gdns. fire kills man

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A 75-year-old retired Con Edison worker died Monday after returning back to his burning home to retrieve his cell phone and two of his relatives were injured in a one-alarm fire that engulfed a Springfield Gardens home, a relative and fire officials said.

“I had three brothers and now I have none. It breaks my heart. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life,” said Ruth LaGree of her dead brother, Nathan LaGree, 75. “He was a beautiful person. Very nice person.”

Ruth LaGree, who lives on the same street where the blaze started, said she was told by firefighters that the fire started in the boiler room of her brother’s one-family home at 179-22 Zoller Road in Springfield Gardens, but the cause was unknown.

“How did it happen? I don’t know,” she said.

Nathan LaGree went back into the burning home to get his cell phone, which led to his death.

The citymedical examiner’s office said LaGree’s death was caused by smoke inhalation and was ruled an accident.

The spokesman took the opportunity to remind residents not to go back to their home when there is afire in the dwelling.

The blaze was called into the city Fire Department at 6:26 a.m. and was controlled at 9:52 a.m., a Fire Department spokesman said. Fourteen units and 75 firefighters battled the blaze, the spokesman said. The cause was under investigation.

“It just took them a long time to put it out,” said neighbor Joyll Cambridg. “You couldn’t really see flames but you could see a ton of smoke.”

Ruth LaGree said her brother was retired from Con Edison and also served time in the military. She was too distraught to remember her brother’s age or which branch of the military he served in, but he was 75 and retired from the Air Force, according to the New York Post.

Also injured in the blaze were Ruth Legree’s sister-in-law, Betty LaGree, and her niece, Patricia.

A family member said the two were being treated for smoke inhalation at Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica.

There have been 17 fire-related deaths in the borough this year, as of September, according to statistics provided by the Fire Department’s Office of Public Information.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

Posted 6:29 pm, October 10, 2011
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