HILLCREST – Up to two dozen people living in an illegal boarding house were fortunate to have survived the fire that severely damaged the overcrowded building, the county fire coordinator said Thursday.
Fire Coordinator Chris Kear said if the “fire happened in the middle of the night you could have had fatalities.”
The Tuesday fire erupted in the second-floor bedroom of a 48 W. Hickory St. house. Kear said a teenager sleeping in the attic space could have become trapped in the alcove-sized space with only one way out.
“To have someone sleeping in the alcove is dangerous,” Kear said, pointing to the burned-out area from the side lawn. “If he had been sleeping he wouldn’t have gotten out. There’s no way out.”
Fortunately, the teenager had gotten up and moved to another area of the house to get better WiFi.
Kear said investigators determined the residence had been converted into four bedrooms in the unfinished basement, four bedrooms on the first floor, and the small living space in the alcove. The house had three legal rooms on the second floor.
He said the preliminary belief is the fire started on the second floor, but Sheriff’s Office fire investigators and Ramapo police detectives were still determining its cause.
Homeowners had been cited by Ramapo in 2020 for running an illegal rooming house, Kear said, but had removed the violations. He added that part of the investigation will center on when the owners returned to running a boarding house.
“You can’t sit and watch a house 24/7,” Kear said.
The single-family house is uninhabitable with fire, heat and water damage throughout the structure, Kear said.
Ramapo Police Capt. Daniel Hyman said there were three smoke inhalation cases: a 16-year-old male was transported to Nyack-Montefiore Emergency Room, and a 31-year-old female and 16-month-old child were transported to the Westchester Medical Center.
The owner, Simcha Karniol of Brooklyn, was deeded the West Hickory property in November 2021 for $700,000 by his father, Berel Karniol, a developer in Ramapo and the area, according to records on file with the Rockland County Clerk’s Office.
Simcha Karniol has been given a court date on March 29 to answer the 11 violation notices. The building department revoked the house’s certificate of occupancy, pinning violations notices on the front door.
The violations include:
- lacking a building permit for work on the building;
- using the building as a boarding house not in conformity with the certificate of occupancy;
- lacking an emergency escape for people sleeping in the basement and attic;
- lacking smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarms; and
- misuse of extension cords as wiring.
The Ramapo Tax Assessor’s Office website lists the West Hickory house’s owner as Hickory Villas LLC, which is registered at Berel Karniol’s address at 23 Ellish Parkway. Reports show 23 Ellish Parkway is cited by 40 limited liability companies tied to Karniol that filed with the New York State Department of State.
Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police, and investigations. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @lohudlegal. Read more articles and bio. Our local coverage is only possible with support from our readers.