The fire that broke out underneath the elevated Metro-North tracks in Manhattan Tuesday night started with spilled gasoline, according to officials, but there was plenty of fuel to feed the flames after the first spark, the I-Team has learned.
The Urban Garden Center was apparently storing firewood, plywood and what appear to be soil and fertilizer products underneath the tracks on Park Avenue in East Harlem. Piles of the charred material were being cleared away Wednesday, but photos taken last fall, found through a simple Google search, show the flammables stacked high on the lot there.
Glenn Corbett, fire safety expert at John Jay College, says he's stunned that neither the city nor Metro-North picked up on the flammable material sitting underneath the tracks sooner, especially because that very stretch of track was impacted by the deadly gas explosion in 2014.
"It should have raised red flags a long time ago," Corbett said over the phone.
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"The fact that we have a business operating under the bridge exposing people to the fire is unconscionable in my mind," he said.
Neighbors wondered the same.
"I don't understand why Metro-North had no concern," said Adrina Marinescu, who arrived to the scene in the aftermath of the fire to pick up her godfather's SUV, partially melted by the fire.
Viewer Alex Fernandino wrote on NBC 4 New York's Facebook page, "Would love to know what genius approved storing propane tanks under a commuter train track in one of the more populated areas of the city."
The Urban Garden Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The city's Economic Development Corporation, the landlord of the site, told NBC 4 New York in a statement, "All EDC tenants are required by lease to adhere to all relevant laws and regulations. If anything is found to have been in violation, we will take swift and appropriate action."
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Neighbor Jenny White, who saw the smoke from her window, said she hopes officials recognize the danger of reverting to the storage scenario.
"I think now they're definitely going to second-guess before doing it again," she said.