Fire destroys Chestnut Ridge home used illegally as a rooming house, dog dies

“A single-family house owned by a religious organization and being used illegally as a rooming house caught fire with up to 21 people living amid multiple fire and safety violations, according to fire officials Monday.

The house owned by Mosdos D’Rabini at 510 Chestnut Ridge Road went up in flames at 9:36 p.m. Sunday, drawing firefighters from six departments to assist Spring Valley firefighters. A dog died in the fire, but no one was injured, officials said.

Flames destroy house being illegally used as a boarding house at 510 Chestnut Ridge Road in Chestnut Ridge  Photo: Rockland Fire and Emergency Services

People were living illegally in the basement and attic, and the three-bedroom house was littered with electrical problems and other fire code violations, Rockland Fire and Emergency Services Coordinator Chris Kear said. Several space heaters were being used to keep people warm on a cold night and the house lacked working smoke detectors, he said.

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“These residents were living in extremely dangerous conditions,” Kear said. “If this fire happened at 2 a.m. there would’ve been fatalities in this house. This is a classic example of putting residents and first responders in harm’s way.”

The cause of the fire is being investigated by the Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation fire unit with the Chestnut Ridge Building Department.

The house lacks a permit as a boarding house and is listed with the Ramapo Tax Assessor’s office as a caretaker’s residence and single-family house. Kear said 15 to 21 people lived in the house, using beds located in the basement and attic. Usually, basements and attics are prohibited from being used as living spaces. He said people were taken to the Salvation Army in Spring Valley and the American Red Cross was trying to find shelter for those displaced by the fire.

Mayor Rosario “Sam” Presti said the fire is being investigated. He had scant details about the people who lived in the house.

Fire Inspector Kim Weppler said earlier attempts to inspect the inside of the house were rebuffed by the owners. Inspectors need permission unless they get a court order. He said violation notices based on an exterior inspection are before the Justice Court. “Although the village’s Building Department had previously cited this property for violations based upon exterior inspections .. the Village Code Enforcement Officer and Fire Inspector had been denied entry by the occupants,” Weppler said in a news release. “In responding to the fire, they have now gained access to the interior and observed numerous additional violations, which may have been the cause of the fire and led to a catastrophe.”

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