Crisis spurs camaraderie: Locals rally to aid Bushwick tenants displaced by massive blaze

Crisis spurs camaraderie: Locals rally to aid Bushwick tenants displaced by massive blaze
Photo by Robert Murray

They’re rising from the ashes.

The Bushwick community is rallying to support 10 locals kicked to the curb with no place to call home after a fire raged through their building — part of which city inspectors said was illegally converted into residences.

A big-hearted neighbor of the tenants displaced from 38 Lawton St. launched an online fund-raiser following the devastating Feb. 22 blaze — which by 5:00 pm Wednesday received more than $3,800 in donations for the victims — and is helping to organize a March 2 benefit concert at a venue about 10 blocks from the scorched three-story structure, according to a former resident.

“I think it’s incredible the way people came together, and that the bands are willing to play. It’s amazing,” said Scott Sweeny, who is now crashing with do-gooder Robert Murray, the man behind the relief efforts. “I start crying if I think about it too long.”

Hosts of the live-music showcase featuring no less than nine acts will give 100 percent of the event’s $10 cover charge and 20 percent of its bar sales to the fire’s victims, so they can use the funds to replace destroyed possessions and to cover moving costs, according to Murray, who said the concert fund-raiser was a no-brainer in such a creative enclave.

“A lot of their friends are involved in music, and a lot of the community out here is very artistic,” he said. “It was something they decided was appropriate for the people that lived in the home.”

Twelve fire trucks pulled up to the building less than three minutes after someone called 911 to report the inferno last Thursday around 2:15 pm, and 60 of New York’s Bravest extinguished the conflagration by 3:34 pm, according to a Fire Department rep.

No humans were injured, but the flames destroyed most of the building and its contents, according to Sweeny, who lost his beloved feline friend, Sophocles, to the blaze.

“He was a good cat,” Sweeny said.

Fire marshals are still investigating the inferno’s cause, but said it started on the second floor, which they initially told the Department of Buildings was illegally converted — a dangerous practice greedy landlords use to cram as many tenants as possible into their properties, which officials are trying to crack down on in Southern Brooklyn and other nabes across the city.

Agency inspectors searched the building after the fire and slapped its owner with a violation for illegally converting the basement, not the second floor, which could carry up to a $25,000 fine, according to a spokeswoman, who said the inspectors also issued a full vacate order because of the damage incurred, and two other violations for work done without a permit and failure to keep the property up to code.

In 2010, buildings-department employees made three separate attempts to examine the site — once in April and twice in May — after a tipster complained that residents were illegally living in it, but the owner wouldn’t let them inside, the spokeswoman said.

The owner, however, called accusations that he hosted illegitimate tenants a “lie.” He said he put his whole life into renovating the property after purchasing it in 2004, and hopes his tenants can eventually move back to the place they called home.

“It was a great building, I’m in tears with this,” said Eric Frazier, “My tenants, that’s my concern — I hope everybody comes back.”

Bushwick House Fire Benefit at The Gateway [1272 Broadway between Greene and Lexington avenues in Bushwick, (917) 947–8403]. March 2 at 8 pm. $10 cover.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.