By Karen Zautyk
A cooperative investigation by the Kearny Fire Department and Police Department into a devastating house fire on Garfield Ave. last month has resulted in the arrest of two township youths on arson charges.
The suspects, aged 15 and 16, are both students at Kearny High School. After being taken into custody last week, they were remanded to the Hudson County Youth House.
Police Chief John Dowie characterized the boys’ actions as “just a random arson attack” as opposed to the targeting of specific victims.
The two-alarm blaze gutted a single-family home on Garfield Ave. at the corner of Elm St. on Nov. 10.
It was reported at 3 a.m. and quickly spread through the structure. The occupants, a man and a woman, were able to escape, but the man suffered minor smoke inhalation after he reentered the house to rescue three dogs, Dowie said.
KFD Chief Inspector John Donovan, who conducted the initial investigation, determined that the fire apparently started, not indoors, but outside the Elm St. side of the house, towards the rear of the property.
For it to begin outside, “it took some human intervention,” Donovan noted.
The starting point could also be identified by the burn patterns on the building.
Once arson was suspected, KPD Sgt. Rick Poplaski and Det. John Plaugic joined Donovan in the investigation. Plaugic canvassed the neighborhood for witnesses and obtained security videos from cooperative homeowners. Dowie said the footage showed “two shadowy figures” heading south on Elm at about the same time the blaze broke out.
After the direction of flight was determined, Plaugic, Det. Lt. Anthony Gouveia and Det. Michael Gonzalez located more residential videos. One tape, provided by a homeowner in the area of Elm St. and Bergen Ave., reportedly gave a clearer view of the suspects and the route they traveled.
Even clearer videos were then located by Gonzalez at two businesses near Bergen and Kearny Aves. These were provided to the KPD for viewing “in house” by patrol officers, Dowie said. Officer John Fabula passed the descriptions on to his street sources and obtained the first name of one possible suspect, and the department’s Kearny H.S. school resource officer, Steve Montanino, was then able to furnish the teen’s full name and address, Dowie reported.
On Dec. 2, after questioning at headquarters, the 16-yearold and, subsequently, his alleged 15-year-old accomplice, were charged with arson, aggravated arson and conspiracy to commit arson.
Kearny Fire Chief Steve Dyl, noting the “cooperative effort” between the departments, commended both Donovan for his “efforts and diligence” and the police for their “very good detective work.”
Citing the KPD, he said, “I’d like to applaud them.” Dowie thanked the homeowners and merchants who obligingly provided the police with access to their security videos, which helped crack the case.
Regarding two other recent Kearny fires, Donovan reported that a Nov. 20 blaze in a two-family home at 47 Beech St. was accidental and began with a space heater. He said the cause of the Nov. 23 apartment house fire at 425 Beech St. is still undetermined, “but we can’t rule out smoking.”