After losing 40 years of memories in Breezy Point fire, homeowner fights for justice


| mhayes@queenscourier.com |

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman
THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

The cause of Sandy’s Breezy Point fire was electric, the FDNY announced in December.

One month later, area resident Kieran Burke has initiated a lawsuit against the town’s power company, LIPA, and rallied his neighbors to fight for justice.

“[LIPA’s] negligence destroyed my home and incinerated 40 years worth of memories,” said Burke. “That was my childhood home, I raised my family there.”

When Burke got word that the blaze was electric, and then further received word that LIPA could have prematurely shut off the area’s electricity before Sandy hit, he approached longtime neighborhood friend and attorney, Keith Sullivan, of the law firm Sullivan and Galleshaw.

The firm was the first to file, followed by Sullivan, Papain, Block, McGrath and Cannavo (SPBMC). Together, the two represent roughly a combined 90 residents. Each claimant is seeking a different amount, with the highest claim being $1.5 million.

“From my perspective, this is a tragedy, and it was so avoidable,” said Sullivan. “We have a community that was hit hard by Mother Nature, and then kicked when it was down by LIPA’s incompetence.”

When the flames started that night, Burke dashed from a nearby home to his own, where he frantically searched for important items, including his son’s birth certificate. The fire spread, and he had to leave his home immediately.

“Their negligence nearly killed me,” he said.

The six-alarm blaze that incinerated over 100 homes could have been avoided if LIPA had shut off the area’s electricity before floodwaters came through, according to the claim filed with SPBMC.

The day before Sandy hit, the storm was predicted to have “destruction potential,” the legal claim stated. In such a case, de-energizing, or suspending electricity to an area, is recommended in order to protect the public from fire and electrical hazards posed by floodwaters.

According to the claim, LIPA had knowledge that Breezy Point was a flood-prone zone before Sandy hit, but disregarded this notion.

“De-energizing Breezy Point and the Rockaway Peninsula during Sandy would have afforded [these families] and their neighbors protection from fire,” said the claim.

LIPA, however, did take precautionary measures and de-energized Fire Island before the storm struck, and also did so one year prior, before Hurricane Irene. One official, in the claim, described these acts as “a measure to avoid fires and other risks that would require a personnel response not possible during the storm,” measures that Breezy Point was not afforded.

A LIPA spokesperson said that the organization had reviewed the claims, and has no comment at this time.
“This is a cut and dry situation,” said Burke. “LIPA destroyed people’s lives.”

 

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