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Apartment fire guts 4 floors in Kew Gardens

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A four-alarm fire in Kew Gardens ripped through four floors of a large apartment building and sent dozens of tenants running for safety Monday morning.

The blaze, which took place at the six-story building at 84-70 129th St., began around 11:48 a.m., according to fire officials, and within half an hour had developed into a four-alarm situation. Within minutes the second through fifth floors were engulfed in fire and several apartments were destroyed on the north side of the building.

“I saw the flames come out of the third floor,” said Raquel Sanchez, 31, who lives in a house opposite the building. “Then I saw the flames go up floor by floor.”

Despite the extensive damage, only one tenant suffered minor injuries along with four firefighters, according to the Fire Department. A total of 39 fire units and 169 firefighters responded within minutes and had the fire under control a little after 1 p.m., according to the FDNY.

Tenants said they were grateful for the help of the first responders, who ran into their apartments and escorted them to safety.

Natalie Herran, 27, was not on the side of the building that was on fire, but she could smell the smoke. She said that a firefighter took her out of her apartment, down the fire escape and into a car where she stayed until the coast was clear.

Herran said the tenants in the building are a close-knit group, so when the fire broke out everyone helped to evacuate their neighbors. She said one of her neighbors telephoned her husband, Pablo, from work.

“It was very scary, but everybody stuck together,” Herran said.

Fire officials had not found a cause for the blaze and the investigation was ongoing as of press time Tuesday. Ten families signed up for assistance from the Red Cross, according to the nonprofit, and the city Department of Buildings is investigating whether or not there is structural damage to the building.

It was not known by press time Tuesday afternoon if tenants whose apartments were not damaged were able to return to their homes.

A resident named Marta, who has been living in the building for more than 60 years, said there have been other smaller fires inside the building, including the last one that broke out a year ago.

Marta, who safely escaped the fire with her dog, a roommate and his family, said that fire was smaller than Monday’s incident.

“Nothing like this has happened before,” she said.

The FDNY did not comment on the previous fire last year, but Pablo Herran said it might have been started when an elderly tenant on the first floor mishandled some lit candles.

The fire took place the same day the mayor and the FDNY revealed that the city had the fewest amount of fires in 90 years. There were 43,677 fires in 2009, the lowest number in record in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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