4th of July fire on Wythe Avenue

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A two-alarm fire ravaged a Williamsburg water tank maintenance company Saturday night, just as the Independence Day fireworks sparkled above the Manhattan skyline.

At approximately 9 p.m., flames, some as high as 30 feet, began shooting vertically from The Rosenwach Tank Company (87 North 9th Street), on the corner of North 9th Street and Wythe Avenue.

A cloud of black smoke, which formed simultaneously to the Hudson River fireworks, could be seen on rooftops as far away as Bushwick.A spokesperson for the FDNY said the cause of the fire was illegal fireworks and the fire was under control by 10:46 p.m., 90 minutes later.

“Engine 229 was the first to arrive on scene and confirm the fire. There was a lot of wood and sawdust at that location, very combustible materials, and we received numerous calls for smoke,” said Frank Dwyer, a spokesperson with FDNY.“When you get a second alarm, you’re looking at 25 fire companies and over 100 firefighters on the scene.”

According to several eyewitness reports, the fire started after two men and two women in their twenties lit small “Roman candles” fireworks from a nearby building, though others said the fireworks were “bottle rockets.”Pieces of the burning fireworks were believed to have grazed the tank factory, igniting its roof.

“There were fire trucks at every corner and smoke was blowing all the way down to Metropolitan Avenue,” said Ryan Kuonen, a NAG organizer who lives near the tank company. “People were still talking about it the next day, when the fire restarted at 8 a.m.”

The tank company, a division of the Long Island City-based Rosenwach Groups, which maintains many of the rooftop water tanks in Brooklyn and Queens, suffered significant damage from the blaze.

On Monday morning, 36 hours after the fire, Rosenwach workers were clearing away charred wooden beams and planks from the factory’s exterior and picking up pieces of glass from a car whose windshield had been shattered in the blaze.

A Rosenwach sales representative declined to comment about the extent of the damages, but one source said that workers from the factory will be laid off until the factory reopens within a month.

The fire occurred only blocks from the former headquarters of Engine 212, which closed in 2003.City officials praised the response of Engine 229, based in Greenpoint, though community activist and Williamsburg resident Phil DePaolo believes that the fire would have been contained more quickly if Engine 212 were still open.

“229 was in McCarren Park on an EMS run, so they were very close when they came in,” said DePaolo.“They got there quick. If 212 would have been open, we would have had water on that fire within a minute.They could have just ran a hose directly to the firehouse.”

Though City Council restored funding for dozens of fire stations throughout the city that had been threatened for closure, the FDNY was forced to absorb budget cuts this year.The city’s financial difficulty has led to the reduction of six-person crews on engine rigs citywide.

“It takes them longer to run the lines and put water on the fire because they have fewer people on each right,” said DePaolo.“I thank God it didn’t happen across the street where people live.”

Updated 3:32 pm, October 19, 2011
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