Cambria Heights blaze kills couple, grandson

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Only the shell was left of Maurice and Grace Miller's home in Cambria Heights after a fire started by scented candles left burning overnight ripped through their brick house, killing the couple and their 5-year-old grandson, authorities said.

One of the Millers' sons, who dropped the 5-year-old while trying to rescue him, was in critical condition with burns over much of his body. Another brother escaped serious injury, however, firefighters said.

The Fire Department responded an all-hands fire at 216-10 115th Terrace in Cambria Heights at 6:40 a.m. Saturday morning to find the Millers' residence engulfed in flames. The department had the fire under control by 7:40 a.m. using 14 trucks and 62 firemen, said Bruce Lyall, a Fire Department spokesman.

Fire investigators have determined that the fire was an accident, caused by scented candles that were left burning unattended, published reports said.

The fire, which rapidly consumed the two-story brick home, trapped Maurice Miller, 68, a retired freight handler at Kennedy Airport, and his wife Grace, 49, a cashier at a neighborhood store, in their second-floor bedroom.

Moses Abas, 25, the couple's son, was downstairs in the living room with his nephew, Giovanni, when the fire started, FDNY officials said.

Abas took his nephew in his arms and ran upstairs to warn his parents, Fire Department officials said, but somehow the 5-year-old boy slipped from his uncle's grasp. Abas jumped out the window as the fire consumed his parents home, they said.

Maurice Miller, his wife Grace and Giovanni were declared dead at the scene, said fire officials.

Abas was taken to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx with burns over 50 percent of his body. According to Stephanie Sfarra, assistant director of nursing at Jacobi, Abas was in critical condition Tuesday afternoon.

Firefighters rescued the Millers' other son, Carlyle Miller, 19, from the back of the house. He was treated for smoke inhalation and was in stable condition at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.

The front lawn of the charred house was filled with the family's burnt personal effects. Inside the house the dishes in a hutch were black and the sky peeked through the giant holes in the roof.

Nicole Miller, 22, Giovanni's mother, was not home during the blaze nor was the boy's father. Both arrived at the scene after the fire had been put out and were devastated by the news that their son and his grandparents had been killed, according to published reports.

"This is a tragedy," said Joviane Matthews, who lived around the corner from the Millers and stood in front of the charred remains with a glazed look of disbelief upon her face. "The whole neighborhood is sad. They had been here for so long they were such good people."

She said the Millers were a very close family and stood together through thick and thin.

"Every family has it ups and downs, but that was one family who stuck through it no matter what," she said. "Every one is walking around in shock, saying that they wished there was something that could have been done, but it all happened so fast."

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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