PROSPECT HEIGHTS — A devastating electrical fire engulfed a Flatbush Avenue apartment building Wednesday morning, killing a neighborhood grocer, injuring his son, wife and mother, who was in critical condition, relatives and officials said.
Bassam Awad, 46, fell to his death behind 265 Flatbush Ave., near St. Marks Avenue, after faulty electrical wiring of a neon sign in front of a ground-level hardware store there ignited the blaze which quickly engulfed the building, officials and relatives said.
Awad and his extended family lived in the three floors above the store. His mother, the matriarch, was in "very critical" condition after the blaze that also wounded his wife and son, local politicians said. Their conditions were not immediately clear.
"It was blazing from the first floor. Flames were shooting up and out every which way. It lit up the whole neighborhood," said neighbor Veronica Hossain, 49.
"It was chaotic. Firefighters had hoses, ladders, axes everywhere. They were breaking windows. Women were screaming, 'Help! Help! It's burning!'"
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Awad, who ran Haifa Market on the ground-floor next door to the hardware store, had fallen to his death from a rear fire escape, according to FDNY Deputy Chief Russell Regan.
"He got out of the building, but he fell off the fire escape," said Awad's grieving brother, Abdurahman Awad, 36.
Awad, who was originally from Palestine, was married and a father of two adult sons, relatives said.
"What can I say? He was a great man. I loved him very much. He had a great heart. He was very helpful to everyone," the weeping brother said.
"He had an amazing sense of humor and was very charismatic. I don't know how to tell you, just everyone loved him," said relatives Nasreem Awad said.
Neighbors remembered him fondly for his generosity.
"He was a sweetheart, a family man who worked really hard. Anything you needed in the neighborhood, he'd always give you," Hossain said.
Wednesday's fire and Awad's death came when his family was already reeling with grief after his father died recently, relatives said.
"I lost my brother. I lost my dad a couple months ago. I lost my property. I lost my family," Awad's younger brother said.
Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, who represents the neighborhood, visited the scene Wednesday.
"This is a devastating loss for a very large family who are entrepreneurs in the are and have given to the community, supported the community in times of need. They have been providers in the community," Cumbo said.
Eight people were ultimately injured in the blaze, including Awad's mother and two others who were in critical condition, officials said.
About 250 firefighters finally brought the blaze under control at 8:20 a.m., the spokesman said.
"[There was] a lot of fire, high heat, heavy smoke throughout the whole building. They got here within a couple of minutes and they did an excellent job stopping this fire and getting the searches done," Regan said.
The fire was difficult to contain because the confined space within the building and all the flammable material inside the hardware store, Regan said.
"The aisles [in the store] are very narrow. You have a lot of combustibles, a lot of stock, so they are tough fires to fight," Regan said.
The wounded were taken to area hospitals including Brooklyn Hospital, Kings County Hospital, New York hospital and New York Methodist Hospital, officials said. It was not immediately clear which patients were treated at which hospitals.
The hardware store next door to Awad's market was destroyed in the Wednesday fire.
"It's unfortunate we had property damage, but someone losing their life is so much more heart-wrenching and devastating," said the hardware store's co-owner Desmond Nation, 50.
"You can rebuild a business, but you can't rebuild a life," Nation added.
Awad's funeral will be held at 552 Atlantic Ave., near 4th Avenue, on noon, family said.