Blaze That Killed 5 In NYC Is Ruled Arson

NY detectives investigating a fire that killed 5 Guatemalan immigrants over the weekend in a building without enough smoke detectors declared the blaze an arson and urged neighborhood witnesses to come forward, regardless of their legal status.

The Brooklyn fire that killed five - including a hero mom whose last act was to save her kids - is being treated as a homicide, cops said.

"We don't know who would want to hurt them," the Rev. Erick Salgado of the Jovenes Cristianos church said of the victims, including Luisa Chan, 34. "Luisa was devoted to her church. They are good people."


Cops don't know who did it, either - or why. "We're treating it as a homicide," a police source told the Daily News.

The inferno started near the Bensonhurst building's entryway and stairwell, where inspectors Sunday combed for clues.

At midafternoon, they pulled the front door off and wrapped it in brown paper as evidence.

Firefighters say they found no accelerant but expect to officially declare the blaze arson.

The FDNY has eliminated virtually all accidental causes for the blaze and say it's extremely suspicious that the fire started next to the front door in the middle of the night.

"So how many times do you have a candle in the stairwell?" an FDNY source said. "How many times do you have an appliance plugged in the stairwell? How many times do you sit and smoke in the stairwell?"

Police agree the blaze was suspicious. "We believe it's arson, but we haven't identified the person or persons responsible or the motive," said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne.

Detectives are also trying to get information out of the building's owner, with little success.

"The landlord is being very uncooperative - referring us to his lawyer, not turning over [a] list of tenants," a police source said. 

Investigators believe landlord Bill Gerazounis of New Hyde Park, L.I., owns more than a dozen other buildings in the area. He didn't return calls for comment yesterday and refused to comment Saturday.

The three-alarm fire started about 2:30 a.m. on the ground floor, where the H.K. Tea & Sushi restaurant is located.

It then spread up the carpeted, wooden steps into the packed apartments, where there were 20 people in four flats. The inferno sent residents in the back apartments down their fire escapes but trapped the Chan family on the third floor. The family that lived a floor down also was trapped. Neither of those two apartments had fire escapes.

The Chans saved their kids by tossing their infant girl to a passerby and lowering their 2-year-old boy in a car seat. Luisa Chan's husband, Miguel, said her hand slipped from his grip as firefighters pulled him to safety.

Ultimately, rescuers found four bodies on the third floor and one in the rubble. Police said two people were so badly burned it was impossible to determine their gender. The medical examiner has listed the cause of death for all five victims as smoke inhalation/homicide.