Queens Fire Set By Neighbors

QUEENS, NY — A townhouse was set on fire Friday evening and is being investigated as an arson based on the testimony of one of the suspects who turned himself in. The fire was allegedly set because the two families in the duplex were thought to have contracted the non-Evolved strain of the H5N10 flu, according to NYPD Spokesman Mike Sterling.

No calls were made to 9-1-1 when the townhouse on Forest Circle in the Ridgewood neighborhood was set ablaze by other residents of the street, Sterling said. Instead, John Pham, 41, turned himself in at the 73rd Street police substation half a mile from the fire. By the time the fire engines arrived at the home, the fire had been put out by "good Samaritans who didn't stick around for the police," Sterling said.

"It's a very strange case. Pham said that he and other neighbors had agreed to take matters into their own hands because their neighbors were ill with the flu, and then he had second thoughts and just turned himself in."

The fire in the duplex began when Pham threw a molotov cocktail through the window, but the two families were helped out of the home by passersby, said Juan Chavez, 37, owner of the unit which was set ablaze.

"My wife called them angels. We'd never seen them before, but they helped us out and they took the Martells to safety," said Chavez, whose wife Araceli, 35, and children Jazmin, 5, Tony, 3, and Guille, 1, were all unharmed by the fire. They also were not ill.

According to Chavez, the Martells, who were no longer at the scene when police arrived, were all ill, but that their religious beliefs kept them from seeking medical attention. "We respected that, but the other neighbors, they did not," Chavez said. "We are very hurt by this and will be looking for a new home. I will not return to this place."

The investigation will continue, and anyone with more information should contact the police, Sterling said.

"We know that a flu with the mortality rate of the so-called Red Plague is frightening, but this is simply barbaric," he said.

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