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Five Alarm Fire Tears Through Chinatown Building That’s Home to Several Non-Profits

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Photos from FDNY.
Photos from FDNY.

A five alarm fire broke out in a city-owned building at 70 Mulberry St. last night, injuring nine people and impacting several non-profit organizations housed in the property across from Columbus Park in the heart of Chinatown.

A 59-year-old civilian was rescued from the fifth floor and taken to Weill Cornell Medical Center for smoke inhalation.  Eight firefighters also suffered minor smoke inhalation. The building includes offices for the Chinatown Manpower Project (CMP), historic archives owned by the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), offices of the United East Athletics Association (UEAA),  as well as Chen Dance Center and a senior center run by Chinese American Planning Council (CPC).

The fire erupted at about 8:40 p.m. on the fourth floor and spread quickly on account of the historic building’s wooden interior and, as Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro explained,  “many things in it that are flammable.” The fire was so intense that firefighters were forced to withdraw from the building and battle the blaze from ladder trucks.  Nigro added, “(The flames) went out of the fourth floor windows, into the fifth floor windows, extended quite rapidly and quite rapidly through the roof of almost the entire structure. “So it’s very heavily damaged.” An eyewitness, Anthony Lei, told Channel 2, “I heard a big explosion. Once I turned around, I saw the flame coming out. I was a little bit shocked, as well as everyone else.”

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On Twitter last night, Mayor de Blasio said, “This building is home to many local non profits and a senior center that serves as a pillar to the Chinatown community. I know the neighborhood is in shock tonight. We’re going to help the community get through this.”

City Council Member Margaret Chin released a statement just after midnight last night. It read, in part:

70 Mulberry is the building where I went to school, P.S. 23, after my family immigrated to New York from Hong Kong in 1963.  It has been an anchor in the Chinatown community for generations, serving as home to community groups… (that) provide cultural and youth programming, workforce development, and critical senior services. We are now working closely with these nonprofits, City Hall, NYPD 5th Precinct, and FDNY to determine how and when these groups can access their spaces safely and soundly. We are also beginning a dialogue to identify alternative spaces they can use in the interim. We must make sure vital services are not lost, and that these groups’ needs are met. I am grateful to all the first responders from Ladder 20 FDNY and the 5th Precinct for your swift action and bravery. I look forward to working with you and the Chinatown community to restore what was lost.

The Museum of Chinese in America put up a statement via Twitter this morning that reads, “MOCA is deeply saddened and shocked by the devastating fire at Chinatown’s beloved 70 Mulberry. The MOCA team stayed on site until hoses stopped last night. Have reached out to emergency conservators. Thank you for outpouring of community support re: MOCA archives. Will update.”  

This morning, firefighters were still putting out hot spots. There is significant water damage inside the building.  The cause of the fire has not been determined. In a briefing at the scene a short time ago, Chief of Fire Operations Thomas Richardson said,  “Right now we are operating from the exterior with our tower ladder streams. We have a deep-seated fire in the roof area that is difficult to access. This will be an extended operation.”

UPDATE 11:14 a.m. The Chinese American Planning Council is out with the following statement:

CPC is deeply saddened by the devastating fire that started at 70 Mulberry Street last night, but we are grateful that it is under control and that FDNY continues to be at the scene managing the situation. 70 Mulberry Street houses CPC’s Chinatown Senior Center and other community based organizations and programs. There were no fatalities, but one serious injury and some minor injuries of the firefighters. We are sending everyone wishes for a speedy recovery. Thank you to the firefighters and first responders, to our elected partners, DFTA and our City officials, and to our community based organization partners and allies for your outpouring of support.  Restoring programming for our community members is an utmost priority for us. The Chinatown Senior Center was already closed today for Lunar New Year, but we are working with our other CPC sites and community partners to restore services as soon as possible and have been communicating with all of our community members. We are deeply grateful for everyone who has offered to support.
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