Community Rallies Together After Upper West Fire Damages 20 Apartments, 2 Businesses

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A community is coming together in the face of a devastating fire on the Upper West Side.

Everyone survived, but two businesses and nearly 20 apartments were badly damaged. No one is back in their homes.

Firefighters weren’t the only heroes the night of Feb. 24, CBS2’s Cindy Hsu reported.

Bartendar Ralph Green and two other employees of E’s Bar ran up the stairs to get everyone out.

“As we were going up, we were just pounding on doors, yelling, ‘Call 911!'” Green said.

Nadja Johnson was in her apartment cooking dinner for her daughters and remembers yellings: “Girls, we’ve got to leave! There’s a fire!”

Everyone got out safely, but they lost just about everything.

“Our toys, our bed, our rug,” said 6-year-old Lila Johnson.

The Johnsons and many other tenants did not have renters insurance. The city offered the Johnsons a shelter in the Bronx, but it was too far from the girls’ school. For the next few weeks, they stayed with one family after another from the school and are now staying in a one-bedroom apartment owned by a school family that refuses to take any rent.

“I was like crying because I was so thankful for all the help,” Nadja Johnson said.

E’s Bar had to shut down, but its owners knew they could rebuild.

“The tenants upstairs don’t have insurance, have nowhere to go,” said Erin Bellard of E’s. “It kicked in right away to see what can we do to help these people.”

They started a GoFundMe account.

“We set out to raise $10,000. We raised over $12,000,” said Ethan Hunt of E’s. “It really showed us that there is still a community here on the Upper West Side.”

The restaurant next door, Jacob’s Pickles, threw a fundraiser for the tenants.

“We raised up to $14,000 to $15,000 for the tenants here,” said Harold Villarosa of Jacob’s Pickles.

While they’ve learned a lot about the strength of community, they say the biggest lesson has been, “if you’re ever in a fire, you have to just leave your photo album, your belongings,” Hunt said. “It’s not worth it.”

That’s a lesson Nadja Johnson knows all about.

“I think the most important is that our lives were saved. We are alive. We are healthy,” she said.

E’s Bar is reopening next Wednesday, and the celebration will also be a fundraiser for the tenants most in need. It may be a year before the families will be allowed back into their homes.

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