Reproduced from The New York
Thursday, August 31,
by Michael J. Wildes, Mayor, City
2-10 N. Van Brunt Street
Englewood , NJ 07631
Fire in Subdivided Basement Kills
Two in a New Jersey Home
By JOHN HOLL
Published: August 31, 2006
ENGLEWOOD, N.J., Aug. 30 — A four-alarm fire tore through a three-story
wood house on James Street here on Wednesday, killing two residents who,
the authorities said, were living in illegal basement apartments. A tenant
in a third basement apartment was critically injured.
The fire started around 3:40 a.m., said Chief Robert Moran of the Englewood
Fire Department, and the flames quickly spread to the first and second
floors of the house. In all, 14 people were in the house at the time of
the fire, and most were members of the family that owns the property,
Chief Moran said.
One of the victims was identified as Sriwipha Phathan, 27, of Thailand.
The identity of the second victim, a 41-year-old man from Mexico, was
not released because his family had not been notified. Both died from
burns and smoke inhalation and were found in separate bedrooms, Chief
A third tenant, Augustin Palafox, was found in a bathroom with severe
burns and was listed in critical condition at St. Barnabas Hospital in
Livingston, N.J. Chief Moran said it appeared that Mr. Palafox was trying
to put out the fire.
Chief Moran said that the basement had been divided into individual units,
but that the city’s planning office had no record of permits being
issued to the owner, Oscar Cortes, for the work. Deputy Chief Arthur O’Keefe
of the Englewood Police Department said charges were likely to be filed
against Mr. Cortes for illegal units. Arson investigators said the fire
was accidental, but they had not determined how it started.
Mr. Cortes’s daughter, Natalia, said the family moved into the house
at 79 James Street about four years ago and renovated the basement in
anticipation of the arrival of relatives from Colombia. When the relatives
did not arrive, Mr. Cortes rented rooms to the three fire victims and
a woman, Gloria Mendoza.
On Wednesday morning, Ms. Mendoza stood a few doors down from the charred
house, where she paid $350 a month, and spoke briefly to reporters. She
said that she was at a friend’s house when the fire started, and
when she returned she found the house in flames.
Mr. Palafox and the unidentified man worked at a deli and a grocery store
a few blocks from the house and Ms. Phathan worked at a Thai restaurant
in town, Ms. Mendoza said.
A shortage of low-cost housing has become a growing problem in Bergen
County, and illegal conversions are becoming more common, Bergen County
officials said. Mayor Michael Wildes of Englewood said that in recent
years the growing number of illegal immigrants moving into the city had
led landlords to capitalize on the situation.
“It is a tremendous challenge in our nation and in our city where
people with economic challenges are forced into these situations,”
Mr. Wildes said.
He said that he did not know how many illegal units Englewood had but
that the city had been increasing inspections in recent months.
“Any landlord that profits or benefits from situations like this
should be prosecuted,” he said.
* * *
News Coverage: Two Dead, One Clinging to Life in House Fire
News Coverage: Burning N.J. Home Traps 14 People In Basement
Here for The Record Coverage on the James Street House Fire
for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Assemblyman Arnold Brown, Treasurer