A few days ago, Lower East Side resident Frances Ayers left a comment on news coverage of the January 7th fire that killed her longtime neighbor, 72-year-old Claudette Rivera. Ayers suffered second degree burns when she attempted to rescue Rivera from her second floor apartment at 124 Ludlow.
A Fire Department investigation found Rivera’s clothing caught on fire, after she turned on the two front burners of her stove to keep warm. In our roundup of fire reporting, we noted that residents disagreed about whether there was heat in the building when the fire broke out that morning. In Ayers’ remarks, she wrote “I know for a fact that there was no heat beginning 11pm the night before.”
Yesterday, we spoke with Ayers over the telephone for more information. She said “it was freezing in that apartment… there had been sporadic heat for about two weeks.” When Ayers delivered groceries to Rivera about 90 minutes before the fire, the burners were turned on and a space heater was also plugged in. She said the manager had been asked that day when the boiler would be fixed and he replied, “I don’t know.”
According to Eric Bederman, spokesman for the Department of Housing Preservation & Development, there have been no heat complaints or violations at 124 Ludlow in the past year. Ayers said her neighbors only complained to the building manager, rather than calling 311 or filing complaints with the city.
This morning we called the building’s owner, Alan Luke, to ask him whether there was a problem with the heat the day of the fire. Before abruptly hanging up, a man who said he was the manager of 124 Ludlow responded “it’s none of your business,” adding that discussing the fire would be disrespectful to Claudette Rivera’s family.
Ayers indicated the fire has raised her anxiety about three tiny new restaurants opening on the ground floor of 124 Ludlow in the next several months. Michael Yuassa, co-owner of Pike Street Fish Fry, Via Tribunali (pizza) and Caffe Vita (coffee), told us this afternoon he’s committed to working with the neighbors. He’s already met with building residents and intends to continue a dialogue with them as work on the restaurants continue.
As for Ayers, she said the experience has been devastating. Her injuries were fairly minor. But as Rivera’s friend and informal caretaker, the emotions from that day are still very raw. Ayers said Rivera was a kind, generous and charitable person who was her neighbor for 25 years.