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Queens fire that displaced hundreds of residents caused by contractor's illegal use of torch, FDNY says

Devastating Queens fire caused by contractor's illegal use of torch, FDNY says
Devastating Queens fire caused by contractor's illegal use of torch, FDNY says 02:12

NEW YORK -- The fire in Queens that has forced hundreds of people out of their apartments was caused by a contractor illegally using a torch, FDNY officials said Thursday.

Over 400 people who live at the building on 47th Avenue in Sunnyside weren't sure where they would be spending the holidays after it went up in flames on Wednesday. 

Officials said the building is not structurally safe and no one has been allowed inside since the fire. 

"All I got is the clothes on by back," said Oscar Sanclemente, one of the displaced residents who hasn't been able to retrieve his belongings. 

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The Red Cross and NYC Emergency Management have been connecting residents to resources they need at Sunnyside Community Services, about a half mile away from their apartments. 

So far, more than 80 households - more than 200 people, including children - have been registered. 

"We have meals for them today. It's a warm place to wait while are awaiting information about the future of their apartments," said Frederic Klein, with the Red Cross. 

Members of the NYPD's Queens North Community Affairs Unit brought some joy to kids who may not get to open presents under a Christmas tree this year. 

"We knew there were a lot of families distressed and a lot of kids that needed help, especially around the holidays. So we ran out and we got a bunch of donations for toys, and we delivered some toys for the kids," said Officer Keith Tuohey. 

"The least we can do is put a smile on a child's face. At least they can have something to open up Christmas morning," said Officer Chajdon Monestine. 

Fire marshals determined the fire started inside a 6th-floor apartment after a contractor was using a torch to heat lead paint off a metal closet door frame. 

The company received four summonses for illegally using a torch in a multiple dwelling. 

"Fire is out. Structurally it's just not safe,"  said New York City Council Member Julie Won. "Even if your apartment wasn't on fire, you have been affected." 

Despite not having a home, the families said they're thankful they made it out alive. 

"I cried a lot yesterday. So today I feel a lot better," said Sanclemente. 

Crews are still working to get dozens of pets out of the building.

CBS New York learned the building owner will provide hotels for the families through Jan. 2, then they'll be placed in apartments at another building. 

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