Another fire on blazing East Flatbush junkyard block

A firefighter at the site of an East Flatbush junkyard fire, Sept. 16, 2021
Lloyd Mitchell

Firefighters responded to a blaze Thursday afternoon on an industrial East Flatbush block that has seen a striking number of fires over the past five years.

New York’s bravest responded to the conflagration at S&A Scrap Iron & Metal on Preston Ct at 3:20 pm on Thursday. The inferno, which eventually went to three alarms, required about 138 FDNY personnel with 33 units to respond, a department spokesperson said.

Firefighters battled the blaze for over two hours until it was finally under control at 5:27. One firefighter was taken to Kings County Hospital with minor injuries.

Lloyd Mitchell

Reached for comment, S&A’s owner, Salvatore Vallario, 62, said that there were no injuries to staff nor damage to any property. He said that the fire was caused by an electric scooter battery concealed in the scrap pile, inside a 50-yard open container outdoors

“They’re very dangerous. We actually scour the loads for them,” Vallario said. “But we bring in a lot of tonnage of material, it’s hard to go through every piece. It’s almost like Border Control. So we search and try hard, but we missed this piece, and one thing led to the next, unfortunately. It didn’t look pretty but there was no damage and no one was hurt. We just created a little pollution for a while, we’ll atone for our sins for that.”

Lloyd Mitchell

Vallario said that if not disposed of properly, the batteries can be extremely dangerous, going so far as to compare them to a “hand grenade.”

“These batteries really should have a warning,” Vallario said. “I know it’s a nice and easy means of transportation for the less fortunate, it’s convenient in the city, it’s nicer than a bike. But the batteries are so dangerous that, once they start a fire, once they go up, you can’t put them out. You have to see it to believe it, you’d say why do they allow these things.”

Preston Ct, a three-block street lined with junkyards and warehouses just north of Foster Ave, on the border between Canarsie and East Flatbush, has been the site of a litany of fires in the past five years. “Preston Ct” has been mentioned 21 times in relation to 11 distinct incidents on the FDNYalerts Twitter account since July 2016, almost all concentrated on a single block stretch between East 56th St and Ralph Ave.

An FDNY spokesperson did not immediately provide a hard number of fires that have occurred on the stretch since 2016. The last fire on Preston Ct took place just six weeks ago, on Aug. 2.

Despite that, Vallario said that this was his first fire in 32 years of owning S&A, and that the constant fires are coming from his neighbor, the much larger junkyard Brooklyn Resource Recovery. 

“They shred automobiles, they have a machine that pulverizes automobiles,” Vallario said. “When you shred an automobile, automobiles contain gasoline, plastic, batteries, everything there is flammable. So the fluff, car seats, dashboards, get separated in a separate pile. Then what happens is spontaneous combustion, because of all the heat, it occurs, it’s been going on for 15 years they’ve been there. It’s the nature of the beast.”

Firefighters respond to a fire at Brooklyn Resource Recovery in Sept. 2019Lloyd Mitchell

He said that the amount of pollution emitted from the row of body shops, warehouses, and junkyards, whether during a fire or regular business, is being left uncontrolled by the city, and said the city should put together a task force to try to solve the problem.

The Aug. 2 fire took place at Brooklyn Resource, he said, and in the frequent event that a fire breaks out, the FDNY usually has to use his property to put out the fire next door, because of access issues in the neighboring junkyard.

“Usually, they come to my property to fight the fire next door, because they can’t get any access,” Vallario said. “They come to my yard and shut my business down for half a day.”

Brooklyn Resource has long had a tense relationship with the surrounding community, owing to what locals say are toxic and flammable materials being shredded there, releasing noxious fumes into the atmosphere whenever there’s a fire. In 2017, activists and local politicians petitioned the MTA to put the kibosh on Brooklyn Resource’s activities, claiming that the Authority at least partially owns the land the junkyard sits on, which is right next to Long Island Rail Road tracks. The MTA claimed no ownership over the lot.

Brooklyn Resource declined to comment.