Police said on Friday that the cause of the deadly five-alarm fire in Yonkers, New York has been linked to cannabis-growing equipment found in one of the apartments in the building.
What Happened: The five-alarm fire broke out at about 1:15 am Wednesday at the 95-unit complex on the Bronx River Road in Westchester County, just north of New York City near the New York and New Jersey state line.
Yonkers first responders, including firefighters, police and EMS began evacuating residents and fighting the blaze, which had reached the roof. Dozens of firefighters and several residents suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Cannabis Grow Light
Arson investigators determined that the likely cause and origin of the blaze was an electric heating lamp being used to cultivate six marijuana plants that a resident was growing for personal use. WNYC reported that the lamp was hanging on a hook above the small cannabis grow but broke, sparked on the floor and started the blaze in the first-floor apartment.
Investigators said once the resident discovered the fire, he raised the alarm and alerted his neighbors.
“The tragedy of this incident is compounded by how avoidable it was,” said Yonkers police commissioner Chris Sapienza. “We have seen before how dangerous these high-powered devices can be, and without regulations or guidelines to protect the public, people are unnecessarily being placed at risk – marijuana laws need to be fixed, be it cultivation or smoke shops; our communities demand it.”
The NY Office of Cannabis Management has yet to issue regulations governing home cultivation of cannabis, which means that it is not legal, city officials said.
Around 65 people were sheltered in a local community center north of the fire scene, with the assistance of the Office of Emergency Management. Fire departments from other jurisdictions provided aid to combat the fire, which was brought under control hours later, but not before claiming one life.
Michael Damiano, 67, a resident of the fourth floor, was identified by police Friday as the person who died from injuries suffered in the fire.
Photo courtesy of Yonkers Fire Dept.