Fire rips through Hurricane Sandy-devasted home in Build it Back program

Fire rips through Hurricane Sandy-devasted home in Build it Back program
Photo by Jon Farina

Fire marshals are investigating a blaze that broke out in a Lester Court home in Gerritsen Beach on March 1, devastating a family who was almost set to move back in after the city’s housing recovery program Build it Back rebuilt it from scratch.

The tragedy is a flashback to 2012, when Hurricane Sandy destroyed their home along with everything inside — but this time, the family is grateful that all they lost was time, said homeowner Daniel Cepeda.

“I know my wife is pretty heartbroken, so am I, we were just so close. We’ve been out of the house going on 14 months almost, so it’s been a long ride — just being so close and knowing what was going to be happening in the next month or so, having that idea in the back of your mind, that crushes you,” he said. “We didn’t lose anything, and I think my wife puts it the best, ‘We didn’t lose anything but time.’”

Sixty firefighters arrived at the home between Madoc and Noel avenues at 11:20 am, and had everything under control by 11:59 am, a Fire Department spokesman said. The fire was on the second floor and extended into the attic, he said. Two firefighters sustained non-life threatening injuries and were not taken to the hospital, the spokesman said.

Workers were inside the house during the time of the fire doing general interior construction, according to a Build it Back spokesman, and once the fire marshals finish up the investigation, the city will determine the work that’s needed to be done to get the family finally back into their new home.

“We are working closely with FDNY, which is working to determine the cause of the fire,” said Matt Viggiano. “We will ensure that these homeowners return to a resilient and safe home as soon as possible.”

The home didn’t suffer badly from the flames, but firefighters drowned it in water, and so contractors must now assess the damage, said Cepeda.

The sluggish Build it Back program has been plagued with problems from the get-go, and is now more than $500 million over-budget after missing Mayor DeBlasio’s own self-imposed deadline to repair all the Sandy-damaged homes by the end of 2016.

Another Build-it-Back home in Gerritsen Beach toppled over in June, and contractors tried to cover up that they were at fault. And homeowners in the same nabe have complained about worker’s equipment blocking them in on Gerritsen Beach’s famously narrow streets, once even preventing a kid with autism from getting to school.

But the Cepedas are happy with the city’s help, and now are just looking forward to finally having a place to call home again, said Christina Cepeda, a mom to two.

“I’m upset, but in Sandy we actually lost all our belongings and everything. I have a 2-year-old and 4-year-old and they are my main concerns,” she said. “I have had a great experience with Build it Back so far. The guys are very hard workers — they did a really amazing job, the house looked great. Accidents happen, I just hope this never happens again.”

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