At least three people were found dead in a basement after a fire, driven by high winds, swept through several houses in the Richmond Hill section of Queens on Friday, fire officials said.
The house where the bodies were found, 104-18 125th Street, was cited in 2011 for an illegal basement apartment, among other violations, and in 2017 inspectors responding to a complaint of an illegal basement dwelling reported that a man had refused to let them enter, Department of Buildings records show.
On Saturday, fire officials were still trying to determine the cause of the fire, which was first reported at 104-19 125th Street. The blaze engulfed that house and the neighboring house, 104-18, collapsing much of their upper structures.
Two of the bodies were found on Friday, and the third on Saturday, a Fire Department spokesman said. The police declined to identify those killed pending formal notification of relatives.
Amid a long-running shortage of affordable housing, the city has struggled to make headway on the problem of illegal basement dwellings — which the former mayor, Bill de Blasio, estimated last year to number 50,000 illegal units housing more than 100,000 people.
Eleven people drowned in basements last year in flash floods after Hurricane Ida, spotlighting the high stakes of the problem — and its urgency, given that climate change is expected to bring more frequent and intense floods, as well as more of the high winds that played a role in the blaze on Friday, according to the Fire Department.
Harrideo Parmand, listed in city records as the owner of the house at 104-18 125th Street, could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.
City records show several open violations at the address, including for failure to comply with an order to vacate the cellar apartment and for altering the residence to accommodate more than the legally allowed number of dwellings.
Firefighters were still searching the debris on Saturday on 125th Street near Liberty Avenue, where the blaze broke out. The five-alarm fire sent gray smoke billowing, gutting two houses, damaging three others and sending dozens of residents fleeing.
The fire struck the bustling, close-knit neighborhood known as Little Guyana, on the south edge of the Richmond Hill section. At least 29 adults and 13 children were being helped in the wake of the fire, according to the American Red Cross, which is providing assistance. Five firefighters had minor injuries.
Buildings officials were also on the scene. The Department of Buildings did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.