A Queens family’s very first night in their new apartment turned into a fiery nightmare.
A raging blaze ignited by a charging moped battery killed a 9-year-old boy early Wednesday as his desperate parents struggled in vain to rescue their trapped child from the flames in their basement home, authorities said.
Remi Miguel Gomez Hernandez died at the scene after the boy’s frantic father was burned trying repeatedly to save his little boy from the blaze, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. And a friend who was staying with the parents recalled the mother’s desperate efforts to do the same just hours after the family moved in.
“The mom said she heard the boy saying ‘Mom, help me,’” recounted the stunned friend, Humberto Gilbert. “She tried also. But she couldn’t. She had to get out … We wanted to go back and look for the boy but with the smoke and the heat we couldn’t.”
This was the third fatal fire of 2021 caused by people charging batteries for electric vehicles indoors. In addition, the apartment inside the three-story Ozone Park residence had no smoke alarm and the family’s home was illegally converted for residential occupancy, Nigro said.
“The mother was in shock,” said neighbor Adria Valerio, 49. “She was on the floor crying, crying, crying: ‘Why does this happen to me? Why does this happen to my son?’”
Two of Remi’s uncles and a family friend came late Wednesday to salvage what they could from the gutted apartment.
“He was very sweet. His family loved him,” said the friend, Veronica Leon, fighting tears. “I mean, I just saw him two weeks ago, it’s just, it’s very heartbreaking to lose a child, and the baby of the family.”
Remi was supposed to start fourth grade Monday at P.S. 97 in Brooklyn on Monday, and his surviving 14-year-old brother was getting ready to start classes at Franklin K. Lane High School.
Instead, his family is left without a home, staying with one of the boy’s uncles, trying to grapple with the heartbreaking loss.
“Remi was very quiet, very lovable,” Leon said. “His mother’s feeling lot of things. She wishes he was here to give her a hug and a kiss.”
“They are devastated… This family can’t even have coherent thoughts,” she added.
Ramon Fernandez, Remi’s uncle on his mother’s side, said, “I will miss the most having Remi come to my house and giving him hugs. He was very lovable, and he always liked to hug and kiss.”
The lithium-ion battery was charging inside the multi-family home on 102nd Road near 84th St. when the 2 a.m. blaze broke out, officials said. Firefighters pulled 13 survivors from the building before the flames were extinguished after about 30 minutes, according to Nigro.
The structure was later deemed unsafe for occupancy and the city issued an order for all residents to vacate the building.
“Early this morning dispatch started receiving frantic calls from folks telling us their home was on fire and adults and children were trapped inside,” Nigro said at a promotion ceremony for FDNY fire marshals.
“After this fire the fire marshals went in and already discovered what caused this fire. And what caused the fire this morning? Charging a battery.”
Ten other tenants and a firefighter were taken to Jamaica Hospital with assorted non-life threatening injuries, officials said. The battery had been removed from the moped, which was parked outside the building, to be charged in the basement apartment, an FDNY source said.
“There was just a loud explosion,” said Lanesha Haden, who lives on the building’s first floor. “When I opened my door I saw a lady screaming and pointing to the bottom of the steps and there was a bunch of smoke and fire.”
For the 12 months ending Aug. 1, two New Yorkers died and 60 were injured — including 18 firefighters — in 55 blazes sparked by the lithium-ion batteries that typically power the two-wheel e-bikes used by delivery workers and others.
A scooter battery sparked a three-alarm inferno May 5 that tore through a Bronx apartment building, killing a 91-year-old woman, the Fire Department says. Eleven others were hurt, some critically. The three-alarm inferno erupted inside a third-floor apartment in a six-story building on Park Ave. near E. 161st St. in Concord Village.
And a victim eventually died after another scooter’ battery sparked a blaze that tore through a Bronx NYCHA building and left 12 people injured, four critically, on Jan. 12, FDNY officials said Wednesday. That overheated battery caught fire in the living room of an apartment in a seven-story Sotomayor Houses tower on Watson Ave. near Rosedale Ave. in Soundview.
In the previous year, the lithium-ion batteries caused fewer than half as many fires — 22 blazes that injured 13 people, including four firefighters. Nigro said further testing may show the battery behind Wednesday’s blaze was an after-market brand rather than one recommended by the manufacturer.
“It’s a new phenomenon in this city and we need to get a handle on it,” the commissioner said about the shocking spate of battery blazes.
Replacements, and not the batteries that originally come with scooters, are usually the ones to catch fire, FDNY Chief Fire Marshal Daniel Flynn told the Daily News.
“The most important thing to do is to stick with the manufacturer’s recommended batteries,” Flynn said.
Survivor Gilbert was left hours after the fatal fire struggling to grasp what happened — and why.
“It’s so sad,” he said. “It’s not fair, it’s not easy. It’s not easy to know that there was someone inside and we couldn’t help.”
With Brittany Kriegstein and John Annese