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Three Dead in LeFrak City Fire Sparked by Unattended Stove

By  Sybile Penhirin and Nigel Chiwaya | January 1, 2015 9:51am 

 The 9th floor fire killed three people at 96-02 57 Ave. Wednesday night.
The 9th floor fire killed three people at 96-02 57 Ave. Wednesday night.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

CORONA — A Haitian family that was preparing a traditional soup for New Year's Eve was killed when their stove sparked a fire that ripped through their LeFrak City apartment just before midnight Thursday.

Fire sources say that there were no working smoke alarms in the apartment on 96-02 57 Ave. Non-existent or improperly working smoke alarms are a factor in 75 percent of fatal fires, the sources said.

The fire, which officials said was caused by an unattended cooking stove, brought police and more than 100 firefighters to the ninth floor home at 11:46 p.m. Five firefighters suffered non life-threatening injuries battling the blaze.

When they got there, responders found Louise Jean-Charles, 59, Nadia Donnay, 39, and Napoleon Michel, 69, a retired taxi driver and Haitian immigrant, unresponsive.

Jean-Charles and Donnay were rushed to Elmhurst Hospital where they were pronounced dead and Michel was taken to Forest Hills Hospital.

"They were preparing for a new year together and should have been alive to see 2015," said Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who represents the area.

City code says that landlords are responsible "to ensure that tenants are provided with both carbon monoxide (CO) and smoke detectors (SD) that comply with the physical requirements of the Building Code," according to the Department of Housing and Preservation.

A rep for LeFrak City said: "The building has no fire violations and the apartment was outfitted with smoke detectors as required by law.  A smoke detector rider attesting to the presence of this life safety equipment was signed and initialed by the tenant in 2012.

"Our deepest condolences go out to the families of those affected."

Neighbors and relatives said that Jean-Charles and Michel had been dating for about six years and both used walkers. Donnay, a relative, stayed there from time to time.

"He was very nice, he was a good man, a good father," said Marie Jean, a relative, said of Michel, who emigrated from Haiti more than 40 years ago. "He was like family to me."

"It smelled like something was burning," said Carl Meyer, 52, who lived several floors above the victims and was home during the fire. "So I opened the door and at first there was just a little bit of smoke. But just a few minutes later, the whole hallway was black."

Jamie Peters, 49, who lives on the same floor where the fire broke out, stuffed towels under the door to prevent the acrid smoke from getting in.

"I saw people from my window filming our building I opened the window and asked them what they were filming and they said there was a fire," said Peters, 49, who lives with his wife, Denise and their three children.

An Instagram video taken during the blaze shows flames billowing out of the windows of the apartment as onlookers watched from the street.


Only Lefrak

A video posted by Michael Vynar (@michael_v98) on

Peters, who said he has known the victims for 15 years, described them as friendly people.

"They were very, very nice," he said. "Very polite, always asking about the kids and stuff. What happened is terrible."