Christmas Day Fire Displaces Chelsea Tenants | chelseanow.com

Christmas Day Fire Displaces Chelsea Tenants

A three-alarm fire broke out on Christmas afternoon on the top floor of 144 W. 19th St. | Photo by Amy Marcs

BY REBECCA FIORE | While many homes were preparing Christmas Day feasts, a three-alarm fire spread over the top floor of a Chelsea apartment building, displacing all 32 households.

The fire, caused by an unattended candle, broke out on the sixth floor of the 144 W. 19th St. (btw. Seventh & Sixth Aves.), located next door to FDNY Engine 3/Tower Ladder 12/Battalion 7.

A total of 33 FDNY units and 138 firefighters responded at 3:35 p.m., according to Sophia Kim, FDNY deputy press secretary.

After spending Christmas Eve with her niece, Amy Marcs — who lives in apartment 3E — decided to curl up in bed and watch Netflix, when she smelled smoke.

“It’s Christmas. People are cooking. I thought maybe someone burnt something,” she said. “Then I heard all the alarms in the building go off. My neighbor screamed, ‘My apartment is on fire!’ ”

Kfir Danieli, who lives a floor beneath Marcs, said he was sitting on the couch, relaxing from weekends of working on a performance of ‘The Nutcracker’ out on Long Island, when he heard his neighbors screaming.

“It was like a war zone,” he recalled. “I didn’t even know what to think.”

Danieli said he was able to get out of the building with his dog before the windows exploded.

“I was in the street, basically wearing nothing. It was insane,” he said.

Marcs said she ran out of the building without a coat or socks. She was unable to grab her cat, who was scared and hiding under her bed, but took her phone, calling it her “lifeline.”

“Freezing was an understatement,” she said — and while most stores were closed for the holiday, a Duane Reade located directly across from the building (corner of Seventh Ave. and W. 19th St.) opened its doors to the displaced tenants. According to the National Weather Service, it averaged 33 degrees on Dec. 25.

“The fire was so wild and so vicious, it kept spreading and spreading towards the rest of the building,” Danieli said.

Marcs said it was an incredibly windy day, which caused the fire to spread around more (wind can provide more oxygen to the flames).

Danieli estimates that the firefighters worked on battling the flames for two hours. Kim said the flames were under control by 4:44 p.m. Two people were injured — one civilian who refused medical attention, and one firefighter who was transported to Bellevue Hospital.

That night, the American Red Cross took the residents to St. Peter’s Chelsea Episcopal Church (346 W. 20th St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.).

According to Michael de Vulpillieres, communications officer for the Greater New York Red Cross, 16 households, of whom nine adults required emergency housing, were registered with the organization. “Red Cross also provided families with emergency funds for food and clothing,” he said.

Not every person chose to accept the funds or the offer to be put up in a nearby hotel, de Vulpillieres noted. Both Marcs and Danieli stayed with friends and plan to either couch-surf or sublet for the next few months.

Danieli didn’t accept help from the Red Cross because he has people to rely on.

“I had a good friend to crash with. I wanted to help other people who have it worse and don’t really have anybody. Leave it for the people who really need it,” Danieli said.

Marcs said that around 6 or 7 p.m. on the evening of the fire, residents were allowed into their apartments for just a few minutes, to gather some belongings. Marcs said she knew this was her only opportunity to get her cat.

All residents from the 32-unit apartment building were forced to vacate after excessive water damage and have been told it may be months before they can move back home. | Photo by Rebecca Fiore

“There was no electricity. It was a smoky, pitch-black building. My priority was getting my cat back,” she noted. Marcs said a “sweet, young cop named Eddie” helped her collect her cat. She then headed off to a friend’s house for dinner and “a lot of wine.”

“It’s a lot of people who now have to find a place to live,” Marcs said. “I’m lucky that I’m a New Yorker, so I know a lot of people. There are people who don’t know as many people as me. Everyone is putting the word out to help me find a place to live, because I don’t have one.”

Marcs, a writer and comedic performer featured by Chelsea Now in 2015 as part of an article about solo shows based on breast cancer experiences, said she would have to replace almost everything in her apartment due to water damage.

“I am out of my apartment for a long time,” Marcs said. “I have every intention of coming back once they renovate and gut my apartment. I want to come back. I’ve lived here for 20 years. I want to come home.”

To help Marcs recover, Whitney Malin started a GoFundMe campaign for her friend (gofundme.com/help-my-friend-recover-from-fire). By Jan. 3, the total amount raised was $8,038.

Marcs isn’t the only one with a GoFundMe campaign. A notable resident, Louboutina, the Instagram-famous “hugging dog” (@louboutinanyc), lives on the top floor of the building. The dog and owner Cesar Fernandez-Chavez were out for a walk, according to reports from the NY Daily News, when they turned the corner and saw the flames. Set up by Chavez’s friend Loni Edwards, gofundme.com/loubie has surpassed its goal of $20,000, with a total of $74,890 as of Jan. 3.

Instagram celebrity Louboutina (the “hugging dog”) was out for a walk with her owner, Cesar Fernandez-Chavez, when the fire began. | Photo via @louboutinanyc

The building is partially rent-stabilized. Nicole Woodall, who lives in apartment 5A with her partner and cat, was out for Christmas celebrations that day. She said she was told it would be a minimum of three to four months for repairs. Woodall is terminating her lease and plans to look for a new place.

Woodall isn’t sure what her next move is, but she said she is trying to find a new place.

Marcs noted that the gas had been shut off in the building for about two and a half months after a leak was discovered. Con Ed confirmed the gas service had been shut off due to a leak in the riser, the pipes that carry the gas up and down the building in the walls (the building uses oil for heat).

“I actually think that’s a miracle,” Marcs said, wondering, “Who knows what would have happened if the gas was on?”

Stephen Charles Lincoln, a longtime Chelsea resident and owner of The Protein Bakery (located at the storefront of the apartment building; proteinbakery.com), said his friend texted him about the fire at 5 p.m. on Christmas Day.

“I looked through the window and it was raining in my store,” he said. “It was pouring sheets of rain.”

Since Lincoln doesn’t have a sprinkler system in the store, none of the baking is done on site; the water went through the lighting. He said water poured out of the recessed lighting. Toward the back of his store is the cash register and computer system. He said miraculously, the water damage didn’t reach his electronics.

“I’m really, really lucky,” he said. “All my lighting needs to be replaced, but the good news is that the next day, around 3 p.m., the power came on and we were able to open for business.”