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Massive Fire Hurts 21 in Queens

By  Trevor Kapp Dan Rivoli and Julie  Shapiro | August 20, 2012 7:37am | Updated on August 20, 2012 11:11am

FDNY responded to a three-alarm fire at a four-story Queens building.
FDNY responded to a three-alarm fire at a four-story Queens building.
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QUEENS — Twenty-one people, including 19 firefighters, were hurt in a massive fire in Flushing that ripped through a four-story building early Monday, officials said.

The three-alarm blaze at 143-05 45th Ave. broke out just before 3 a.m., FDNY officials said.

Most of the victims, including 17 firefighters and two people, were taken to Flushing Hospital with serious injuries, the spokesman said. The injuries were not considered life-threatening, however, he said.

The other victims were treated at the scene with minor injuries.

Srashe Sharma, 63, who lives on the fourth floor, woke up in the middle of the night overwhelmed by smoke.

''I woke up my husband because I smelled something burning and I couldn't breathe," she said.

Sharma's husband, Shiv, opened the window, and the couple saw flames below.

"The flames were shooting up," Shiv Sharma, 60, said. "I just saw red. I couldn't see how big.... I was in control, but I thought, 'If we stay here, we'll die.'"

''It was panic," Srashe Sharma added.

The pair rushed down to their neighbors' apartment on the third floor and leaped out a bathroom window that the neighbors had smashed open. 

"We jumped without shoes," Srashe Sharma said. "We didn't think we would break our legs. We just wanted to save our lives.''

The Sharmas said they were not hurt.

Ahilan Sinnathurai, 21, whose family owns the destroyed Bownie Restaurant on the ground floor of the building, raced to the scene of the fire in the middle of the night.

''We watched the whole thing happen," Sinnathurai said outside the gutted restaurant Monday morning. "It seemed like a lifetime.... A lot of people were on the fire escapes.

"There were so many firefighters," he added. "A lot of people were in pajamas and bare feet. Some people were screaming."

Sinnathurai, who worked in the Indian restaurant, said he doesn't know how he and his family will make ends meet now that the 13-year-old business was gone.

''It's more devastating than disappointing," Sinnathurai said. "We gotta figure out another source of income.''

The fire was brought under control just before 6 a.m., the FDNY said.

Chi-Sei Han, 60, the building's owner, said the six apartments there were destroyed by the fire and water damage.

"My life is suddenly upside down," said Han, who also owns a laundromat on the ground floor. "Right now, I've got nothing. Life can be turned around overnight." 

Thirteen people were left homeless in the fire, Han said.

"I hope one day I can build it back so people have a place to live," Han said.

Taran Groceries, which is between the restaurant and the laundromat, was also gutted in the fire.

''It's a mess," said Jasvindel Marwaha, 49, who owns Taran Groceries. "It's finished.''

Marwaha said he used the small grocery to support his three sons, who are 12, 6 and 5 years old.

"Everything I have is from here," Marwaha said. "Financially I'm going to suffer for I don't know how long." 

Anita Oberwiler, 46, who lives on the block, said the community wouldn't be the same without Taran Groceries.

"This is the heart of our block," Oberwiler said. "When people don't have money, [Marwaha] will feed them. You need food for your kids, he'll give it to you. If you don't have money, he'll say, 'Pay me when you have it.' It's a very big loss for us."

The cause of the fire was under investigation, officials said.

"It does not look suspicious," said FDNY Battalion Chief Kevin Duffy. "Everything seemed legal. They've got the fire escapes in the rear."

The Department of Buildings evacuated the building and is checking its structural stability following the fire.