Tortoise Sparks Fire Injuring FDNY Firefighter

The fast-moving blaze tore through a Brooklyn apartment and injured a firefighter and three officers.


Here's the story of the tortoise and the flare.

A trouble-making pet tortoise escaped from his terrarium in a Brooklyn bedroom -- and wound up sparking a fast-moving blaze that wiped out a family's apartment and injured a firefighter and three cops, fire marshals said yesterday.

Giovani -- a basketball- sized 6-year-old African spurred sulcata tortoise -- somehow managed to lumber out of his plastic tank in his 18-year-old owner Mohamed Salem's bedroom in Bay Ridge on Sunday afternoon, fire officials said.

In the process, the rambunctious reptile tipped over his tank, which sent its heat lamp crashing to the floor and ignited a pile of art supplies, including paint thinner and paint, fire officials said.

Within minutes, flames tore through the third-floor Fifth Avenue apartment that Salem, an art student at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, shared with his family.

"The flames were shooting out of the top floor," said witness Kevin Caufield, 37.

Three police officers who had been nearby rushed over to look for trapped residents, not knowing no one was home. The cops had to be treated for smoke inhalation, as did one of the more than 60 firefighters who responded to the blaze, which took a half-hour to put out.

One firefighter found Giovani in the kitchen and rescued him.

"My wife was screaming, screaming, screaming for this one," said Salem's father, Ibrahim, 55, pointing at his son. "And when the firefighters came out holding the tortoise, they told her they thought she was screaming for the tortoise!"

Giovani was unharmed.

Sadly, a second reptile, a water-dwelling turtle living in a tank in Mohammed Salem's bedroom, was killed in the blaze, fire officials said.

But the Salems weren't convinced of Giovani's guilt.

"I don't think he could have done it. If it was him, he would done it the first time I got him" a couple months ago, Mohamed said at his parents' nearby store, Pyramids Jewelry International.

Ibrahim, who emigrated from Egypt 22 years ago, said he was initially told by firefighters that the blaze was electrical.

"How he make the fire?" he asked, while patting Giovani's shell and tickling his feet.

"But thanks God he is in life. Thank God my family is safe. He was pretty lucky."

Republished with permission of The New York Post.