Family looks to community after losing everything in Bensonhurst fire

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Carolina Chan and her 1-year-old baby (left) are looking to their community for help after a fire destroyed their home.
Courtesy of Ligia Guallpa

A Guatemalan family with a one-year-old baby is seeking community donations after a fire ravaged their Bensonhurst home and destroyed all their belongings on Monday.

Carolina Chan, her husband, and their infant son lived with five other relatives in an 85th Street duplex before an inferno creeped up from the ground floor at 8:30 am on Jan. 25 and forced them to flee.

“I was sleeping with my baby,” Chan said in Spanish. “My brother-in-law, he was the one to wake me up because I didn’t feel the smoke.”

bensonhurst fire
The inferno sent plumes of smoke out the third-floor windows.Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The family could only grab a few items before running out of their two-floor apartment, Chan said. The building quickly went up in flames, sending plumes of smoke out of the third-story windows and charring every surface of the house.

No residents were hurt, but one firefighter suffered serious injuries after an air conditioner fell on his head from one of the windows and was released from the hospital the following evening. Five other first responders sustained minor injuries.

It took dozens of firefighters more than an hour to quell the blaze between 19th and 20th avenues — but by then, the family’s apartment was decimated.

Chan and her husband’s relatives, who work in the construction industry, are now temporarily living with nearby family members. Chan said she’s grateful everyone made it out safe, but she’s still shaken by the blaze.

I cant sleep well. There are nights I feel the smell of smoke, like if something were burning,” she said, adding that her son seems traumatized as well. “He hasn’t been able to eat … I think because of the fright.” 

To support the family’s recovery, an advocacy group called the Worker’s Justice Project helped Chan set up a GoFundMe campaign, which has raised $905 out of its $20,000 goal as of Friday morning. 

A blaze destroyed a three-story duplex in Bensonhurst.Courtesy of Ligia Guallpa

“We are trying to raise $20,000 to pay the rent and get the essentials to survive this coming month. Everything we raise here will support everyone who live in the third flood,” the page reads. 

The campaign comes after Chan’s downstairs neighbors’ successful fundraising effort. When the fire broke out, seven delivery workers who lived on the duplex’s ground floor also had to flee. But thanks to generous local contributions to their GoFundMe page, the roommates are now able to start rebuilding their lives, one resident said.

There are people with good hearts who have helped us,” Miguel Duluxan, a Guatemalan delivery worker, told Brooklyn Paper in Spanish. “For them it might be very little, but for us it’s everything.”

Within less than three days, the fundraiser has raised more than $26,000 — substantially more than its $13,000 goal. 

The fire even ruined the delivery workers’ bikes, which were locked up outside the duplex.Courtesy of Ligia Guallpa

Duluxan — a member of the Worker’s Justice Project — said that the fire started somewhere near his roommate’s room, perhaps because of a problem with the gas tank. The roommate woke up the other five men who were in the house at the time, but not before they could save their belongings.

We couldn’t work because we didn’t have bikes,” he said, adding that the donations will help them buy replacements. 

The fundraiser, which was amplified on social media by a cadre of elected officials and the Worker’s Justice Project, has not only helped the delivery workers get on solid ground, it’s given them hope, Duluxan said. 

We’re grateful for so many people, and we don’t know them personally,” he said. “It lifts our spirit and encourages us to keep fighting.”