By Carla Zanoni and Murray Weiss
INWOOD — Officials believe a three-alarm blaze that devastated a row of Inwood businesses may have been unintentionally set by a brother and sister team that was brought in to clean the air ducts and grease traps at a defunct Chinese food restaurant on the first floor, according to law enforcement sources.
According to sources, a contractor was brought into the building to prepare the space for a planned Mexican food restaurant. The contractor allegedly subcontracted the work to the brother and sister team, who were tasked with cleaning out the ducts and vents.
When the brother encountered a pipe in the way of the smoke hood over the stove, he lit an acetylene torch to cut it, igniting the grease and starting the fire, law enforcement officials told DNAinfo.
Sources said that they left the restaurant and put the torch in a car. Then they went back into the restaurant and tried to put out the flames.
After a bystander called 911, the fire department arrived and saw the cleaners inside the restaurant, sources said.
When the firefighters rushed inside the siblings disappeared. After the fire was extinguished, investigators eventually tracked down the pair and interviewed them.
It was not immediately clear if there was any criminality in the case.
FDNY officials said fire marshals are still investigating the cause of the blaze, which left two firefighters with minor injuries, and refused to say anything else.
The city is investigating whether the contractor or subcontractor had the proper permits and licenses.
The Department of Buildings (DOB) is looking into whether any work orders were in place for the building at the time of the fire, which burned for hours. No work orders are listed on the DOB website.
In the meantime, city officials were still at the scene of the fire as they prepared to make way for the building’s demolition, which sources said may take place as soon as Friday.
A private company hired by the landlord is conducting the demolition, according to DOB sources.
The building housed multiple businesses, including a Citibank and a Bank of America ATM kiosk, which was cleaned out by Brinks armored cars Thursday.
It was still unclear whether other affected businesses like the pet store Furry Fiends, Dichter Pharmacy and Splash Laundromat would be allowed to enter to retrieve belongings.