Today’s news:

Cause unknown for 3-alarm St. Albans fire

A three-alarm blaze that damaged three homes and engulfed a St. Albans block in smoke Friday may have started in a home that was occupied by squatters, according to eyewitnesses.

The fire took place at the corner of 119th Avenue and 154th Street around 8:13 a.m., the FDNY said. The flames grew quickly from the original house and spread to the second floors of two neighboring homes, waking up residents on the block.

“The fire was so strong that with the smoke, you couldn’t see,” said Bob Simpson, who has been living two doors down from the house that initially caught on fire, for the last 30 years.

Roughly 139 firefighters responded to the scene and within an hour had the flames put down, the FDNY said. Five civilians were taken to Jamaica Hospital, two of whom had serious injuries, according to the authorities.

Danielle Washington, who lives in a home with her husband, son and daughter opposite the house that caught fire, said she saw an ambulance take away an elderly woman from one of the affected homes, but she did not look badly hurt.

“The flames were coming out of house,” she said referring to the house where the blaze began. “It was real bad.”

The FDNY had not determined the cause of the fire as of press time Tuesday, but the department did not label it suspicious. The investigation was ongoing according to the authorities.

Some residents on the block said they thought the home was filled with squatters. The FDNY would not comment on the speculation.

Southeast Queens leads the state in the number of foreclosures due to the ongoing mortgage meltdown. Several lots in the area have been vacated and prey to thefts and vagrants, according to Adjoa Gzifa, chairwoman for Community Board 12, which covers the area.

When these banks go into foreclosure, they usually let them slip. When that happens, people are naturally going to live there. People need homes,” she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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