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Fire devastates Rego Park block, destroys shops

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A four-alarm fire wreaked havoc on a Rego Park block this week, gutting at least six and shuttering nine businesses that residents said were mainstays of the neighborhood that has long depended on the shops for everything from groceries to animal care.

About 250 firefighters battled the blaze on 66th Road and 99th Street that began around 8:30 p.m. Sunday and was brought under control by 3 a.m., city officials said. More than a dozen businesses, as well as the Ohr Natan synagogue, on 99th Street and Queens Boulevard, were affected. Several firefighters suffered minor injuries, but no one was seriously hurt, officials said.

“This is devastating to the community and the people who use the stores,” said City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills). “I’m going to try to make sure the store owners get what they deserve.”

The fire, which residents speculated began in a convenience store on the corner of 99th Street and 66th Road, tore through the Bet Laundromat, a kosher grocery store, Mark International Food, the Atlantic Beauty Salon, Just for You Ladies Boutique, a computer repair store, a car and limousine business and a law office — all on 99th Street. The Tower Diner on the corner of Queens Boulevard and 99th Street was closed by the fire but did not suffer extensive damage, fire officials said.

More than 100 members of the Ohr Natan synagogue, on Queens Boulevard, prayed on the sidewalk as the blaze consumed the stores. The synagogue’s leaders and members were able to remove all the Torahs from the building, which had minor damage.

“So many people were helping to save the Torahs, thank God,” said Rego Park resident Stella Grabovsky, who lives three blocks from the fire. “The sound was unbearable. The fire trucks were screaming. But nobody was hurt — this is what is important.”

Other businesses affected on Queens Boulevard included an animal clinic, DCAP Insurance, Trylon Liquors and another law office. Koslowitz said the clinic’s animals were saved.

Residents were distraught over the fire that destroyed the businesses patronized by many of the residents living in the apartment buildings that surround the shopping strip.

“This is very upsetting for our neighborho­od,” Rego Park resident Ari Levi said. “We go to these stores all the time. The owner of the food market was from the same town in Uzbekistan as my family. My father knows him well. It was the main fruit and vegetable store for us.”

Megan Mackell, who lives across Queens Boulevard on 67th Road, said thick plumes of smoke covered the neighborhood Sunday night and said a burnt smell still permeates her apartment.

“I thought the fire was in our building at first — that’s how smoky it was,” Mackell said.

Mindy Jia, who lives on the other side of Queens Boulevard, said she and her husband started packing bags in case they had to evacuate.

“We got the important things, the passports and things like that, in case we had to run out,” she said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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