The smell of smoke was slight, yet distinct, as we emerged from the Bedford Avenue stop on day three of the Williamsburg warehouse fire. Imagine your neighbor barbecuing on a summer day. But just two blocks closer to the waterfront, the campfire smell was quite potent.
There was no sign of smoke this afternoon (heavy snowfall may have reduced visibility), but the fire department says paper records held by CitiStorage are still smoldering.
After being blocked off during the weekend, Wythe Avenue had reopened to cars and pedestrians alike, but the streets were relatively empty in an area dotted with cafes and stores and typically host to a good amount of foot traffic.
MatchaBar, a small coffee shop on Wythe Avenue right by the CitiStorage warehouse, was one of the businesses in the area most affected by the catastrophe. “We had to close Saturday, just because you could barely breathe,” said co-owner Graham Fortgang. “There was a layer of soot outside the store.”
Fortgang, who lives just a block up from MatchaBar, had to spend two nights away from his apartment. “It wasn’t that I was told to, I was just worried,” he said. “Especially with the electric heaters, they draw in the air from outside. So it was either a freezing cold apartment, or a smoky apartment.”
Kinfolk, just across the way from MatchaBar, was also hit with the brunt of the smoke that billowed from the warehouse this weekend. They closed on Saturday, as did MatchaBar, just before 2pm. “It has definitely affected our business,” said JP, who worked at the store this weekend. “Typically the weekend – Friday, Saturday, Sunday – are the busy days for us, and it was a shame that we had to close early, but better safe than sorry.”
Further north, in Greenpoint, the Flying Squirrel remained open for the entirety of the weekend, mostly unaffected by the smoke. Reagan, one of the store’s employees, not only works in the area, but also lives just a few blocks away. She stayed at her apartment this weekend, located a little further south from the stream of smoke. Nonetheless, “It was hard to breathe and I was coughing a bunch,” she said. “I wear contacts but my eyes were too dry to wear them this weekend.”
On Facebook, the kids store described the fire as “devastating” and wrote, “The owners of this facility have done well in business. They are also they most magnificently nice and caring people you would ever hope to meet. They devote many hours to helping small businesses free of charge. Norm Brodsky and his wife Elaine have helped our store immensely. Their daughter is due to give birth at any moment unless she already has. Our hearts and prayers go out to them.”
The relatively heavy and consistent snowfall is no doubt limiting the level of smoke in the area, but the New York City Department of Health warned that “the odor may be present long after worrisome levels of smoke abate.” The DOH doesn’t expect the smoke or odor to cause significant problems for healthy individuals, but “anyone in the immediate area who experiences shortness of breath or chest pains should seek medical attention,” it said.
A local walk-in clinic declined to say whether it had treated patients for breathing problems, but there were complaints on social media.
— Carter (@carternyc891) February 2, 2015
The Red Cross announced that it had been on the scene since early Saturday morning, “distributing hundreds of meals, hot beverages, snacks, water, hand warmers and other relief items” to firefighters.
Health risks weren’t the only concern in Williamsburg today: the Times notes that confidential documents containing social security numbers and medical histories have been carried by the wind, raising concerns about privacy. According to DNAinfo, the owner of the storage facility says the area around the building “is essentially clear”of sensitive documents, and a disaster recovery firm will be sent to other areas “to minimize the potential for privacy concerns.” The facility may have also stored family court records and records on completed court cases from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, DNAinfo reports.