Fire victims get Christmas help

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (c.) holds up a flier for a drive for residents displaced by a devastating Woodside house fire. He is joined by (l.-r.) resident Pacita Gamboa Gabor, Corwin Smith of the Red Cross, and Anna Rios, whose sister was displaced. Photo by Rebecca Henely
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City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) called upon the Woodside community Monday to donate food, necessities and toys for the tenants displaced by a 61st Street house fire that killed one person and injured four others.

“There are still families who are homeless as a result of this fire,” Van Bramer said.

The two-alarm fire began in the early morning hours of Nov. 18 at 40-38 61st St. and burned for almost three hours until FDNY was able to bring it under control. The flames gutted the house and also scorched the house just north of it at 40-34 61st St.

“It was so thoroughly burned that it had to be knocked down completely,” Van Bramer said of the house where the fire began.

The fire killed Benhur Perez, who lived on the first floor, and injured four others. Ruyard Gabor, who lived on the second floor with his wife Pacita Gamboa Gabor, said he knew Perez for more than four years and described him as a sickly man.

An FDNY spokesman said the cause of the fire was still under investigation.

Pastor Daniel Gillande, who lives on the same block, approached Van Bramer about starting a drive for the people who had been displaced by the fire. Gillande, executive pastor at Grace Church on the Upper West Side, said he was in bed with his wife when the fire occurred.

“We knew people would be in need immediately when we heard the ground shake like that,” Gillande said.

The items Van Bramer and Gillande are collecting include non-perishable food, baby food, diapers, cleaning products, new clothing, cooking utensils and toys. These items can be delivered at Van Bramer’s district office at 47-01 Queens Blvd., Suite 205 in Sunnyside and at the Woodside, Sunnyside, Long Island City, Broadway and Court’s Square libraries. The drive ends Dec. 21.

Those who lived in the two buildings have been staying with friends, relatives or places set up by the Red Cross.

Ruyard Gabor, a former home health aide, said he has not been able to work since he jumped from the second floor of the building and injured his back. He and his wife are living with one of her co-workers.

Another resident, Rick Zaragoza, who lived on the first floor, said he was trapped in the house for 15 minutes because the smoke and fire outside his room and in the adjacent building made it impossible to escape.

“I prayed, right?” Zaragoza said. “I just prayed.”

Pacita Gamboa Gabor said she was not at home at the time of the fire, but she has nightmares about the incident.

She said she was grateful for the drive.

“I appreciate it because they help us a lot,” Gabor said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Posted 7:14 pm, December 14, 2011
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