Overheated Electrical Box Sparked Devastating Chinatown Blaze: FDNY

Thursday, May 6, 2010  |  Updated 9:21 AM EDT
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A 7-alarm fire rips through a Chinatown building.

A 7-alarm fire rips through a Chinatown building.

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An overheated electrical junction box caused the devastating seven-alarm fire that ravaged Chinatown last month, killing one man, injuring 30 firefighters and EMTs and displacing up to 60 families.

Fire officials made the determination following an exhaustive three-week investigation. Marshals now say sparks or heat from the metal junction box ignited the blaze.

The box, which connected the electrical cables that fed power to the building, was fixed into the back of the first floor at 283 Grand Street, in what appeared to be the storage area of a 99-cent store there, marshals said. The five floors above contained apartments.

Forensics and witness interviews enabled marshals to trace the fire's origin to the roughly three-inch junction box. Marshals began to focus upon the box after noticing melted copper wire feeding out of it.  Copper wire typically only melts because of a problem, such as a short, within the box and not as the result of an external flame.

Twenty-four firefighters and three civilians were injured in the seven-alarm fire  that broke out in Chinatown April 11. One man died.

At least 250 firefighters battled the massive blaze which began around 10 p.m. and took four hours to contain, an official familiar with the investigation told NBC New York.  

Fire Chief Edward Kilduff said two elderly residents were hospitalized in critical condition with smoke inhalation and a third was being evaluated.

The blaze could be seen as far away as the Brooklyn Bridge.

Officials say the fire started on the first floor of the mixed residential and commercial building and spread through a shaft to the roof before affecting two other buildings.

The Red Cross is helping the 50 to 60 families that were displaced, officials said.

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