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Metro-North Fire Fueled by Gardening Chemicals Stored Without Permits: City

By  Dartunorro Clark and Murray Weiss | May 19, 2016 4:57pm 

 The entrance to the Urban Gardening Center on E. 116th Street in East Harlem. The business remained opened Wednesday after a massive blaze occurred Tuesday night under the tracks in East Harlem between East 117th and 118th streets, ruining their supplies. May 18, 2016.
The entrance to the Urban Gardening Center on E. 116th Street in East Harlem. The business remained opened Wednesday after a massive blaze occurred Tuesday night under the tracks in East Harlem between East 117th and 118th streets, ruining their supplies. May 18, 2016.
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Dartunorro Clark/DNAInfo

HARLEM — The East Harlem garden center which sparked a massive fire that severely damaged a Metro-North viaduct above it was storing flammable material without the proper permits, officials told DNAinfo New York.

A spokeswoman from the mayor’s office said the Urban Garden Center had not applied for permission to store materials such as propane, gas, fertilizer and other chemicals.

“This business owner did not apply for the necessary permits to store flammable materials in these quantities at this location," a mayor’s office spokesperson told DNAinfo New York.

"Had the business followed the law, FDNY would have assessed the site and determined that this storage of flammable materials should not be allowed.”

The garden center's storage area — between East 117th and 118th streets — was the holding area for the bulk of the business’s fertilizers, firewood, soil and additional gardening chemicals which officials say fueled the fire.

"There was more combustible material there than at a outdoor Home Depot center, including propane," an investigative source told DNAinfo.

The spokeswoman from the mayor's office said the garden needed two permits to store the propane and gas.

The garden center, which opened in 2011, has a lease managed by the city's Economic Development Corporation.

An EDC spokesman said the FDNY investigated the site Wednesday and again Thursday and no remaining issues were found. The inspections will continue, the spokesman said.

The EDC spokesman said the agency is still determining what action, if any, will be taken.

The massive blaze, which brought Metro-North service to a halt Tuesday and delayed subsequent service, began at 6:42 p.m. when construction debris and a trailer caught fire beneath the elevated train tracks, officials said.

The FDNY said the cause of the fire was accidental and connected to fuel spilling on a hot generator during re-fueling at Urban Garden Center.

One of the gardening business' co-owners, Nick Gatanas, told DNAinfo Wednesday the storage area was “the backbone of the business.”  

The owners declined to respond to additional media inquiries Thursday regarding the fire and the storing of flammable materials under the Metro-North tracks.