In aftermath of Williamsburg fire, families await DOB to greenlight to return home

Lee st and williamsburg street fire in august 2023
About 168 firefighters fought the blaze that displaced 8 families in Williamsburg with no injuries reported.

After a massive fire in Williamsburg on Sunday, residents of eight adjacent apartments are hoping they can return safely home soon.

The five-alarm blaze tore through a Lee Avenue storefront on Aug. 20, spreading through several businesses and injuring at least ten people. Firefighters vacated a number of units at 110 Lee Avenue to ensure the residents’ safety — the building did not catch fire itself, but the FDNY occupied it as they put out the flames in the stores next door.

All tenants were accounted for and two families were taken to emergency shelters provided by the Red Cross. They were later relocated to a hotel where they are still waiting for the city’s Department of Buildings to lift the vacate order on their home.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to resolve it soon,” said Williamsburg Council Member Lincoln Restler.

Restler was at the site when the fire occured, and said he has continued to work with the Red Cross, the mayor’s office and the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, a nonprofit that works to re-establish the Orthodox Jewish communities from Eastern Europe in Williamsburg. All eight families displaced by the fire are part of the Orthodox community.

“It may be that the vacate is lifted on a partial basis for some of the units first and then hopefully the remainder of the units there,” Restler said after talking to the DOB.

The building was deemed uninhabitable because debris accumulated from the fire blocked exits, doors and windows were broken, and the fire escape was in “bad shape” after being used during the blaze, Restler explained.

When the DOB conducted an inspection of the building at 110 Lee Ave. on Monday, they found the rear exit of the fire escape was obstructed by a padlocked gate, there were household items stored on the fire escape and a flammable wood deck under the drop ladder — all violations of city code. The department fined the building’s owner $1,250. 

The flames destroyed nine businesses — including a toy store and a kebab shop — at the corner of Lee Avenue and Williamsburg Street. Most of the stores were closed and unoccupied at the time of the fire.

“The building’s okay,” said Samuel Stern, chair of the Community Advisory Committee of the UJO, who has been in communication with the building’s landlord and directly with the families. “The lower floors should be okay to return once these technicalities are cleared away. So we’re working on that. The DOB is very receptive, they understand the urgency of having these families come back home. These are large families with children getting back to school soon, so it’s a very sensitive time. It should be within a week, but we can’t say for sure.”

Williamsburg Street, between Bedford and Lee avenues, reopened for through traffic on Tuesday night.

“It’s just terribly bad to see it all disappear in a flash,” said Restler. “We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that businesses quickly get the insurance payout that they deserve and these businesses and their workers get back on their feet as quickly as possible.”