Photo by Christina Santucci
By Joe Anuta and Christina Santucci

A Chinese restaurant owner, whose body had been almost entirely engulfed in flames after he ran into the parking lot from his burning Whitestone eatery Saturday, was still in critical condition at Jacobi Medical Center Wednesday, a hospital spokesman said.

Zhao Jiang suffered second-degree burns during the afternoon blaze at Emperor House Chinese restaurant, according to a spokesman for the Fire Department. His identity was confirmed through property records. A woman, who Whitestone community members identified as Jiang’s wife, had been brought in serious but stable condition to New York Hospital Queens, the spokesman said.

Cascarino’s Pizzeria worker Austin Lopez, 20, said he first heard a woman screaming, before he looked into the complex’s parking lot.

“The next thing I saw was the guy rolling on the floor completely on fire,” Lopez said. “It was his whole body from head to toe.”

Another man from inside the eatery was attempting to cover Jiang with what looked like a blanket, the pizzeria employee said.

Several seconds later, the man appeared to extinguish the flames around Jiang and Lopez ran inside to call 911, he said.

The FDNY was called to respond at 4:49 p.m. and was on scene in less than four minutes, a spokesman for the agency said. At 4:53 p.m., an ambulance was assigned to help at the shopping center, at 10th Avenue and 154th Street, and arrived at 4:59 p.m. — 10 minutes after the initial call came in — according to fire officials.

“The firefighters came really quick, but the ambulance took a little while,” Lopez said, describing how New York’s Bravest immediately tackled the building, which had been pouring black smoke.

“I saw what seemed like endless amounts of firefighters and fire trucks. The firefighters in this town are amazing,” said Devon O’Connor, founder of the Welcome to Whitestone Civic Association. “They are always first on the scene.”

Until an ambulance arrived, Jiang remained on the ground in the lot where the neighborhood’s Waldbaums is located.

“He could barely breathe. He was on the floor,” Lopez said.

Lopez said Jiang was friendly with his boss at Cascarino’s.

“The guy that got burnt, he was a good guy. He worked every day,” he said, explaining that Jiang’s 6-year-old daughter was also often at the restaurant.

O’Connor said he also spotted the female burn victim being taken on a stretcher to an ambulance.

“The girl I saw had one of her arms wrapped up and most of her hair was burned off,” he said. “She had an oxygen tank attached to her. It was hard to look at.”

Three firefighters also suffered minor injuries before the blaze was considered under control at 5:26 p.m., the FDNY spokesman said.

Hours later on Saturday, an investigation at the eatery was still going on.

“I left at 10 o’clock and they were still here,” Lopez said.

Fire marshals will determine the cause of the blaze, a spokesman for the FDNY said.

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Two people seriously hurt in fire in Whitestone Chinese restaurant: FDNY
Two people seriously hurt in fire in Whitestone Chinese restaurant: FDNY

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