Deadly Fire Trap in Yonkers

A blocked stairway may have sealed the doom of a Mexican immigrant family killed in a four-alarm fire in Yonkers, authorities said yesterday.

Mario Castelan, 28, his wife, Augustina Calisto, 24, and their 4-year-old daughter, Ana Laura Castelan, all died in the Monday afternoon blaze that took out three wood-frame apartment buildings.

A back stairway should have given the family another way out, but relatives said that for some reason it was blocked. Fire officials said they are investigating.

"I don't understand why they weren't able to get out through the second exit," said Miguel Rivera, who said he owns the building at 36 Orchard St.

All three of the dead were found in a bathroom that connected with a hallway that led to the possible escape route, Rivera said.

Yonkers officials said the building contained five apartments - when records showed it should have had only four. They are investigating the discrepancy, and whether the upstairs apartments had access to two escape routes.

After the fire was reported 4:43 p.m. Monday, witnesses saw a child's hand reaching up to the bathroom window as flames engulfed the building. Firefighters found the front entrance of the home blocked by flames and said the only way to reach the bathroom was by cutting through an outside wall.

But they were too late. "Unfortunately, in a situation like that, what had happened already happened," said Andrew Figura, an assistant Yonkers fire chief.

The fire was set off accidentally when a family moving into a first-floor apartment of the Castelans' building leaned a mattress against a hot stove, setting it ablaze, firefighters said.

Relatives said they believed firefighters had done all they could.

Mario Castelan worked in construction, and relatives said he and his wife were saving to bring their other two children, a 5-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, to Yonkers.

Relatives say they have no money to send the family's bodies for burial in their hometown, Ahuehuetitla, in Puebla state.

Anyone wishing to help can contact the Yonkers Department of Constituent Services by calling (914) 377-6010 or by mailing a check to: Yonkers Disaster Relief Foundation, 87 Nepperhan Ave., Yonkers, N.Y. 10701.

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