Leaders in Orthodox neighborhoods will organize centrally located, controlled fires for chametz burning next Passover, hoping to avoid incidents like the one in Brooklyn last week in which five people were burned.
Amid unusually blustery weather on April 5, a fire company in the Borough Park section reportedly put out 125 dangerous fires set by residents partaking in the ritual of incinerating non-leavened food on the eve of Passover.
On that morning, a man identified as Moshe Schick suffered burns over 20 percent of his body and three others were less seriously injured when a can of paint thinner next to a makeshift oven on 42nd Street flared up, police said.
Four others, including a 2-year-old, were less seriously burned. Schick was recovering from his injuries at Staten Island University Hospital.
“There is no rule that there has to be 15 fires on one block,” said Councilman Simcha Felder of Borough Park, who is also a rabbi. “I have discussed it with many rabbanim and no one says you have to make your own fire.”
Felder said he and Assemblyman Dov Hikind, also of Borough Park, and members of the Hatzoloh ambulance corps would organize a meeting immediately after Passover to plan “central stations” next year where chametz burners can partake of the ritual in a supervised setting.
“If you still want to make your own fire, you can go behind your own house, hopefully taking proper precautions,” he said. “There’s no way to stop it.”
But Felder said fires on the street would be discouraged in favor of use of the public sites.
Heshey Jacob, president of Hatzoloh, said the organization fielded about 15 calls for burn injuries throughout New York City on the eve of Passover, a larger number than usual. He said it was likely due to the high winds, which could cause fires to flare up or prompt the use of accelerants because of the difficulty in kindling.
Jacob said there was a need for both improved fire safety education and the central burning sites.
“I hope that what they’re saying, they will actually implement,” he said. “If there is a large metal container that is supervised, hopefully there won’t be accidents.”
The burning of chametz, which marks the completion of the vigorous process of preparing for Passover, is not the only process prone to danger.
Several years ago a Brooklyn family’s apartment went up in flames following the search for chametz, conducted on the night before Passover, which is traditionally done with the use of a candle in darkened rooms. A mattress apparently caught fire during the process.
Jacob said there are also injuries that result from cleaning, such as burns from hot water used for koshering or from skin contact with harmful substances such as the spray from oven cleaners.
“There ought to be a major safety education [program] well before Pesach,” said Jacob, who said Hatzoloh was planning to increase its efforts in local yeshivas. “Parents and children have to know about this.”