Sifting Through the Ashes

As you probably know, a six-alarm fire tore through the five-story building at 111 Church (between Murray and Park Place) last night. From WABC: “‘It started on the first floor we believe in the duct work in the restaurant. That duct work ran up through the middle of the building. As the fire continued up it broke out on each floor,’ said Chief Roger Sakowich, FDNY. Officials don’t believe anyone was in the building on the upper floors.”

“Firefighters smashed through roughly 80 remaining windows to vent the structure,” reported the New York Post. “A total of 50 units and 250 firefighters responded to the six-alarm blaze.” WABC says 11 firefighters went to the hospital with minor injuries, but the Post says there were 12, and the Tribeca Trib puts the number at 23. (I’m not trying to call anyone out for being wrong—just putting all of the info out there.)

The 1920 building appears to be owned by George Butsikaris Realty. The Tribeca Trib says the building is (was?) residential above the ground floor, but I believe it was commercial, as per the schedule A on the DOB site from 2015.

That schedule A does mention that “rifele range & storage” was in the cellar at the time.

ABC: “Meanwhile, in the basement there is a target range possibly filled with ammunition. “Since the basement was not involved in the fire we didn’t bother to search it yet,” Chief Sakowich said. The chief says there was never any concern of the fire reaching that ammunition because firefighters were able to quickly cut off the flames to the lower level.”

We’ll have to wait to learn about the cause of the fire, but James points out one possible scenario: “Typically pizza restaurants may not be required, unlike other restaurants, to have their type of cooking vents cleaned periodically. (See 2014 NYC Mechanical Code Section 506.) A memorandum by the NYC Department of Buildings to FDNY from 1990 states, “No fire suppression system is required in the hood of a pizza oven.”
See this PDF. The ostensible reason is that they are only venting heat and moisture from cooking pizza, but there may be flammable grease from all the toppings, etc. Maybe these codes and policies should be changed.” (Note: See update below).

The other question is whether there was ammunition stored in the basement from its days as a shooting range. From NBC: “Fire officials said if they hadn’t arrived in time, the fire could have been devastating because they believe there is ammunition in the basement, possibly from a target range.” While locals commented here that the rifle range was long gone, the schedule A from 2015 lists “rifele range & storage,” but that could be out of date or flat-out incorrect.” If there was anything like that in the basement, surely the FDNY would know, right? More from James:

It’s possibly the fault of the local FDNY company, i.e., firehouse personnel, for not doing a proper annual Building Inspection and/or not updating the CIDS. Per fdnewyork.com/terms.asp:

“The Critical Information Dispatch System was invented to provide fire fighters with information that might be helpful while operating at a fire scene. While companies are out on building inspection they make note of special conditions that can affect their operation. Typical entries contain the height, dimensions, occupancy, and construction of the building; the location of standpipes; the location of hazardous materials stored within; or any other critical information.”

The fire marshal should investigate for its report to see what else was wrong in the CIDS that may have hindered or hampered the FD response and contributed to the severity of the blaze. (These reports are eventually available under the Freedom of Information Law.)

So often these issues just disappear as we all move on to the next story; here’s hoping Community Board 1 insists on a full accounting from the FDNY as to exactly what happened. In the meantime, let’s take a moment for the many businesses left in a state of near ruin by the fire.

UPDATE: In the comments, the consensus is pointing toward the Pho King restaurant rather than La Famiglia pizzeria.

(Thanks to Ben L. for the photo at top at the two photos directly below; the subsequent ones are courtesy Robert Ripps.)

 

25 Comments

  1. As we are right across and just above the building on Murray, what I found most interesting is that with the fire breaking through the roof, as plainly visible in all the photos, FDNY never threw water onto the roof. There were plenty of firefighters up there sawing through the roof to vent, etc., but they just let the fire burn and never threw water on the roof. That led me to think it mainly electrical, but now sounds like it’s not the case. Asked a firefighter this morning if he knew why but he demurred. This one has me scratching my head – why wouldn’t they have put water on the roof fire? Anyone know why that would be the case?

    • Without knowing about the roof, it sounds like the initial cause was a grease fire before it spread to the wood structure and building contents. While they probably used water directly on the burning wood structure, water should not be used on burning grease. Maybe the roof location was too close to the greasy kitchen duct.

    • Putting out a fire isn’t always putting water directly wherever you see flames (that’s how grease fires spread). Depending on the type of fire, different techniques are employed to tend to it, with the goal of starving oxygen/combustion sources, and also preventing structural collapses (a gallon of water is over 8 lbs… dumping 100k gallons of water through the roof could trap firefighters in a roof collapse).

      Flames shooting out of the roof on a ground floor restaurant fire may focus the attention on starving the sources of a grease fire first before attending to smaller less dangerous fires.

  2. I spoke with the pizza place folks last night at the scene and they said it wasn’t from them. Their vent runs off the back of the building. They were pointing to the “Chinese restaurant” by which I think they meant Pho King which is a Vietnamese restaurant whose vent, they suggested, went up the front. I have no proof of anything. Just sharing the distinction the La Familigia folks shared.

    • Looking at these new photos, that may be plausible. The interior of the pizzeria looks relatively undisturbed (furniture, etc.) but the interior of the Asian restaurant at the entrance looks highly charred.

  3. A fireman also told me it originated with Pho King

  4. I think its strange I just walked ny the Famiglia restaurant in Union Square yesterday that was shut down due to a FIRE!! strange coincidence!!

  5. This is an ignorant example of not reporting but instead speciation and blame. You have no idea the science and work behind fighting a fire and what it entails to keep people and surrounding buildings safe. Yes let’s have accountability from the FDNY but why don’t you start with being accountable with actually reporting what’s going on in the community and the people that protect us instead of some half ass self serving nonsense.

    • If you don’t like it, don’t read it, babe.

    • DOB and FDNY issued violations to Remix, having been in the premises obviously, and shut them down, all in the last year.

      See https://tribecacitizen.com/2017/02/01/remix-is-in-hot-water/

      However, last night FDNY thought and announced there was a gun range there. Why is that? That is the kind of ignorance that gets firefighters hurt and killed when responding to a fire. Fortunately no deaths have been reported here.

      • Truly disturbing that FDNY or any other agency can forget the firing range left that address after 9/11. Makes sense, right?
        The obnoxious club, Quest aka Remix, had been there ever since the area rebuilt from 9/11, fortunately this year their liquor license was revoked due to DOB and fire code violation (and numerous other violations).
        Simply shows the continuous lack of connection between our city agencies.

  6. I live around the neighborhood, that was crazy last night. I smelled the smoke all the way by the staten island ferry. Just curious, does anyone know when they will release the exact information on what / which store caused the fire outbreak?!? Thanks!

  7. 111 has open violations for FAILURE TO PROVIDE FIRE RESISTANCE MATERIAL on DoB website. FIRE TRap

    • The violations were for the Remix club that used to be in the basement, which wasn’t part of the problem.

      • If it had such glaring fire safety violations in one part of the building, unresolved for months, not far fetched to presume there are deficiencies in the rest of the building… or maybe the rest of the ramshackled top were all perfectly safe and sound …not.

  8. I will miss the small businesses, like the wonderful shoe repair store, which I assume won’t be able to come back.

  9. Are you Pho King kidding me?

    What is this lot zoned for? Maybe we’ll get more condos, yay!

    • Address:111 CHURCH STREET 10007
      Lot Area:5557 sf
      Zoning:C6-4

      C6-4 has a commercial and residential floor area ratio (FAR) of 10 before any bonuses, as per

      https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/zoning/districts-tools/c6.page

      “C6-4 through C6-9 districts, typically mapped within the city’s major business districts, have a maximum FAR of 10.0 or 15.0, exclusive of any applicable bonus. Floor area may be increased by a bonus for a public plaza or Inclusionary Housing”

      • …or by purchasing air rights from a neighboring building, no?

        • Yes. As I recall they have one contiguous neighbor only, to the east. That neighbor I think is a landmark with roughly 5.0 FAR available. They may rather sell the air rights than fight with LPC one day to build penthouses. (I do not recall those air rights having been already sold.)

  10. The real story here, of course, is that our neighborhood may well lose yet another gorgeous, irreplaceable pre-Civil War era building. And that’s heart-breaking. I live across the street, and I love that old building, with it’s metal stars and classic brickwork and roofline. I’m hoping against hope they’ll manage to save it from the wrecking ball.

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