Investigators Probe Fire That Claimed Two Bravest

The NYPD is probing whether a 2000 arson blaze led to Sunday's Bronx discount-store floor collapse, in which two firefighters plummeted to their deaths under piles of debris and merchandise, sources said yesterday.

A former Brooklyn prosecutor echoed the ex-fed's account.

Attempts to reach Gold at his Brooklyn home and Bronx office were unsuccessful yesterday. His lawyer, Jeffrey Hoffman, who handled the 1983 case, said Gold is out of town. Hoffman said he was not aware that the NYPD was re-examining the case file for the 2000 fire.

"I don't know how anyone can say that. There was an investigation into the 2000 fire and nobody claimed there was anything suspicious," he insisted. "If I remember correctly, the appropriate insurance was paid off, and they never pay off if there's any specter of impropriety."

Hoffman said Gold was one of "probably three owners" of the building.

According to records at the New York Department of State, Davir Realty is located at the same address as Gold's Bronx law office.

Hoffman claimed Gold cannot be held responsible if faulty repairs are found to be responsible for Sunday's disaster. He said, "Mr. Gold is a passive investor - it's like saying that I am responsible for IBM's performance because I own 1,000 shares in IBM."

Of the 1983 arson-for-profit case, Hoffman said Gold's "name was only brought up because some of his clients were involved, and when they cast the net, they arrested everybody even remotely involved."

An FDNY source noted that rooftop fires are a favorite of arsonists.

"The reason an arsonist sets fire to the roof is that it usually totals the building," he said. "It's the most expensive part of the building and, more importantly, all the water [poured on by firefighters] goes from top to bottom, causing tremendous water damage."

Buildings Department records show that the owners filed paperwork for repairs to be made to joists and partitions after the 2000 fire. There is no indication that inspectors ever looked at the work. There have been no significant violations on other matters in the building since then.

The 99-cent store that was the scene of Sunday's fatal fire was the latest in a series of discount shops to go up in flames, but officials say they have been unable to determine a pattern because there aren't enough marshals to properly investigate.

"The fire marshals have been reduced to a skeleton-like force since 9/11," said Peter Gorman, president of Uniformed Fire Officers Association. "Their ability to investigate has been greatly reduced."

Since 2002, at least seven fires either began inside or involved 99-cent stores across the city.

Additional reporting by Stefanie Cohen, Zach Haberman, Alex Ginsberg, Heidi Singer and Jana Winter