Second fire strikes Rich Hill store in two months

A worker cleans up behind the counter of a Richmond Hill bodega after a second-alarm fire left the store in shambles. Photo by Karen Frantz
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A two-alarm fire broke out in a Richmond Hill bodega Tuesday in the same building where authorities believe a blaze was set a month ago to cover up the grisly murder of a tenant.

“We had that incident — now this,” said Seonarine Hamnchand, the owner of the bodega, at 115-18 95th Ave.

The Tuesday fire, which Hamnchand said was due to an electrical problem and unrelated to the previous incident, left the bodega in shambles. The ceiling along the front of the store was blackened and falling apart, with sky showing through gaping holes. Glass, fiberglass, wooden boards and destroyed merchandise littered the floor. And the entire store smelled strongly of smoke.

Hamnchand said he called the Fire Department around 11:30 a.m. when a customer alerted him to smoke coming from the roof.

“The fire broke out right above the door,” he said.

He said he could not see the flames at first, only smoke. But he said when firefighters arrived, they cut a hole through the ceiling and found a fire that traveled the length of the front of the store.

He said times had been difficult at the bodega since the first fire Feb. 24, which did not damage his store but cut out his power for a month.

“I was using a generator in the meantime,” he said.

He said his insurance had been canceled due to the February fire and he had been in the process of trying to find new insurance but had been rebuffed by several companies.

He said it could be some time before he is able to reopen.

“It’s going to be like two months,” he estimated, and added he was not sure how he was going to pay for the damage.

Two men from Richmond Hill were charged with allegedly setting the February fire in order to cover up the murder of 43-year-old Azeem Ali, who lived on the second floor of the building, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

According to Brown, Stephen Peters, 22, and Jason St. Hill, 17, who lived nearby, allegedly went to Ali’s apartment to steal his ATM card and retrieve his PIN number. The DA said Peters is accused of shooting Ali in the head, pouring gasoline around the apartment and lighting it on fire. Peters and St. Hill then allegedly went to a gas station and used Ali’s ATM card to get $200 in cash, Brown said.

Hamnchand said all the residents of the building had been living elsewhere since the February incident because most of the building still did not have power.

“Only I alone have lights right now,” he said.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 5:34 pm, July 9, 2018
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