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NYC 3-alarm apartment fire claims elderly couple

Fire on the top floor of the six-story Manhattan apartment building claimed a bedridden wife and her caretaker husband

By Emma Seiwell, Thomas Tracy and Leonard Greene
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — A bedridden grandmother and her caretaker husband who promised never to leave her side were killed Tuesday in a massive early-morning fire that tore through their Washington Heights apartment building, authorities said.

Anguished neighbors and relatives said Maria Tavares, 75, and Luciano Tavares, 74, who perished in the intense blaze inside their top-floor apartment in a six-story building on W. 178th Street near the George Washington Bridge were a resilient pair of devoted grandparents who relied on faith and courage to face every challenge, including declining health in their golden years.

“They were just incredibly loved, happy people,” said Jerika Abreu, 26, the victims’ granddaughter. “They were loved by their community. They were very happy people until the end. No matter the circumstances, they always found ways to push through. They were the most resilient people I knew.”

A neighbor named Ricardo said he was hoping they could survive one more challenge.

“He always used to say that they’re gonna die together,” Ricardo said of Luciano.

It took more than 130 firefighters about two hours to put out the massive blaze. FDNY fire marshals are investigating the cause of the fire.

“Upon arrival in four-and-a-half minutes we saw heavy fire venting from three windows on the top floor,” FDNY Deputy Chief of Special Operations Malcolm Moore said at the scene. “We did an aggressive interior attack and found a couple, an older male and female, inside the apartment.”

Maria Tavares was found suffering from burns and smoke inhalation in the front room, Moore said.

“Once the units battled past the heavy fire condition, we found the second victim, believed to be a male, in a back bedroom,” the chief said.

The couple was taken to Harlem Hospital, where they both died, officials said.

“They were such a nice couple,” Ricardo said. “She was sick. I don’t think she could walk. The husband was taking care of her all the time.”

“She was bedridden,” said a woman named Elianna, whose mother was Maria’s home attendant. Maria had suffered a stroke in 2016.

“He would say if anything happened, he would never leave her,” Elianna said. “They’ve been married for a long time. They really loved each other.”

But her husband had his own medical issues, relatives said.

“My grandfather wasn’t perfectly healthy,” Abreu said. “He’s older in age. But I mean, it’s just tragic.”

Abreu said her grandparents met in the Dominican Republic, came to New York City in the 1970s and lived in the Washington Heights building for more than 20 years.

“My grandfather worked at a factory. He was there at least 30 years,” she said. “My grandma, she was a stay-at-home mom. She held it down at home. She raised two sons. She did her best to provide. They were both very hardworking people.”

She said they were always full of life.

“My grandfather was a big baseball fan,” Abreu said. “He was a big Yankees fan. My grandmother loved karaoke. When she was able-bodied she was a social butterfly. They were just the best people I knew. They just so willingly gave love to those around them and to me.”

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