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Robertson Ave. Fire Dislodges 26 in White Plains

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y - At about 1:20 a.m. Edwin Rumipulla, 10, was awakened with news that a fire had overtaken his home on 57-59 Robertson Ave. Once his shock wore off, he rushed barefoot out of his family’s third floor apartment, felt his way through the blinding smoke on the second flight of stairs, and reached the street, where a neighbor from Harding Avenue offered him water and sandals.

“All the smoke going down the second floor steps was really scary,” said Edwin. “ You couldn’t see. It was blurry and you never knew if the doors were closed or open. My uncle yelled back to us that they were open. We only saw smoke, but once we got [outside] we could see the fire.”

The Ludizaca family that owns 57-59 Robertson Ave. awoke first when the fire alarm went off a little after 1 a.m. on Tuesday. Diana Ludizaca, 19, said her mother thought the alarm was ringing in a different building until she saw smoke from the basement rushing up through the floor. Her mother then warned the other six families living in the three-story building while Diana Ludizaca called the police at 1:22 a.m.

All 26 residents and their pets made it out of the burning building without getting seriously injured. Two residents were taken to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.  However, a spokesperson for the Westchester County Red Cross said they had been released by Tuesday afternoon.

There is a White Plains Fire Department garage at the intersection of Robertson Avenue and Harding Avenue, but it took about ten minutes for the initial rescue team, truck, and three fire engines to arrive. Ludizaca said it took a few minutes for responders to locate her because she called the county police from her cell phone.

All the flames were put out by about 2 a.m., according to the White Plains Fire Department Lt. Kevin Heffernan. Although officials were still investigating the fire’s cause Tuesday afternoon, Heffernan said they thought the fire started in the basement and consumed at least two more floors while spreading through the walls.

“The house has a balloon frame construction which in essence means the beams run all the way across the house and there’s no fire stoppage,” Heffernan said, while explaining that some houses have fire stops breaking up the frameworks’ beams. “So the firefighters were very aggressive in breaking up the walls. They did a great job.”

As officials searched the building Tuesday afternoon, several families clustered outside the yellow caution tape waiting for answers. There were half burnt mattresses and singed linens on the lawn beneath the bits of wooden framework lodged through the bushes. Still, many hoped they could get inside their former home and try to salvage a few possessions.

“My mom wants to go get the phone charger, but the owner said [the officials] put tape across the stairs,” said Edwin, whose family will be staying at both an aunt’s house and an uncle’s home. “I was supposed to go to camp but it turns out I couldn’t go,” said Edwin. “I don’t have clothes. I don’t have a bathing suite, nothing.”

The Westchester County American Red Cross arrived at the scene around 3 a.m. and helped families fill out paperwork while considering various long-term housing options. According to press representative Caroline Sherwin, all 26 residents in the 6-unit home were able to find temporary shelter with family and friends. The Red Cross is now working on getting food, clothes, and financial assistance for the families.

Interested in helping out? The Red Cross said anyone who wants to donate food or clothes or give money to the fire victims can do so on their website. Visit www.westchestercounty.redcross.org to learn more.

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