Sound the alarm! Fire Department suspects foul play caused blaze at Hook warehouse, rep says

Fire stokes claims of corruption: Locals question source of inferno at ancient Hook warehouse they want landmarked
Photo by Jason Speakman

Call it a burning suspicion.

Fire Marshals suspect some pyromaniac purposely lit a vacant Red Hook warehouse on fire last month, weeks after a group of locals proposed landmarking the building, according to a spokesman for New York’s Bravest.

“It’s being treated and investigated as a suspicious fire, not an accident,” Jim Long said on Monday.

Preservationists quickly cried claims of arson after late-night flames tore through the Smith Street structure built in 1886 — known then as the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse — on June 14, and wondered if its owner, developer the Chetrit Group, may have been behind the blaze, because some residents glimpsed a sneak doing possibly illegal work on the warehouse’s roof earlier that month.

But the Fire Department is still investigating the inferno by examining the site in its aftermath and talking to witnesses, according to Long, who couldn’t say when the probe will wrap, and noted that Marshals have the power to cuff a suspect accused of arson if they determine that is the cause.

“Marshals are taking their time, doing forensics, following up with interviews, and canvassing the area,” he said.

Meanwhile, members of the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition — the group that pressed the Landmarks Preservation Commission to preserve the warehouse on the banks of the Gowanus Canal, near the Gowanus border, ahead of the city’s planned rezoning of that neighborhood — are now offering a cash reward of $300 to any good Samaritan whose tip or proof of foul play inside the ancient building leads to an arrest, according to one of its leaders.

“We are sad to have our strong suspicions confirmed, but are not deterred from continuing to advocate for the protection of important sites in the Gowanus area — including the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse,” said Brad Vogel. “In light of the upcoming Gowanus rezoning, these historic buildings must be protected.”

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

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