By Anthony J. Machcinski
The smell of burned wood still lingered in the air days after a fire raged through the residence at 304 Beech St. in Kearny.
The fire started around 2:40 p.m. on June 12 when fumes from a car gas tank, which had been removed from the car and brought into the basement of the building, were ignited by either the building’s hot water heater or furnace.
Fire Chief Steven Dyl said he couldn’t provide further details about why the tank would have been hauled into a residence until town inspectors have completed an investigation.
Firefighters from Kearny, North Arlington, Jersey City, East Newark, and Harrison responded to the three-alarm fire, battling walls of flame that quickly spread throughout the balloon frame of the house.
Dealing with that type of construction, “there are no fire stops on each fl oor so there is a clear channel from the basement to attic for the fi re to spread,” said Kearny Fire Chief Steven Dyl. “We had guys in the house and when we opened up the walls, kept finding more fire.
” To combat the seemingly endless wall of flame, firefighters used an aggressive interior attack, a labor-intensive assault that saw the combatants opening the walls of the house in order to attack the flames.
Although the fire was deemed under control by 5 p.m., firefighters stayed on the scene until midnight to make sure that hot spots didn’t rekindle the blaze.
The fire caused injuries to a civilian and a firefighter. Kearny Firefighter Chris Stopero and civilian Jose Perez were both taken to area hospitals by Kearny EMS, Dyl said. Stopero was treated for a shoulder injury and released last Tuesday. Perez, owner of the Beech St. house, was detained at St. Barnabas Hospital for burns to his legs.
The heat from the blaze melted the siding on the house just north of the blaze while other nearby buildings were left unscathed. The intensity of the heat, which fire officials said, ranged from 500 to 1,000 degrees, was tangible a block away on Argyle Place.
As of The Observer’s press time, the damage to 304 Beech St. was still being evaluated. Officials said it is unclear whether the building, which sustained heavy fire damage including a sizable hole in the roof, was salvageable.
The Beech St. house’s nine occupants, including one child, found refuge with families and friends or at the Lyndhurst Motel. The Red Cross pitched in with clothing donations.
This blaze was the first major fire the Kearny Fire Department has faced since cutbacks forced the closure of one local fire company.
“The men did very well handling (the closure),” Dyl said. “We had one less company on scene and relied more on mutual aid (which came from Jersey City, North Arlington, Harrison and East Newark). We supplemented the missing people with overtime and mutual aid.”
Fire companies from Belleville, Bayonne, and North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue provided stand-by aid at Kearny firehouses during the fire, Dyl said.
Investigation coming for illegal renting
As the charred remains of 304 Beech St. still remained, a darker investigation into the housing structure looms on the horizon.
During the initial fire investigation into the June 12 blaze, Kearny Fire Officials found that the two basement apartments in the residence were housing units deemed illegal under town construction codes.
“I took the owner to court in 1997,” said Kearny Town Administrator and Construction Code Official Michael Martello. “(In 1997), he had to vacate the area and remove what was there. Apparently, he placed them back without a permit.”
The case is currently being referred to the municipal court with the possibility of fines of $2,000 per week for each week the housing was there.
Martello added that determining the amount of weeks the housing was in the basement would be part of the investigation.
When asked about the status of the current structure, Martello believed, “the structure is a total loss,” although he added that the insurance company will have to assess the property before an official decision is made.
As of the Observer’s press time, it was unknown if were any penalties assessed to the owner for bringing the gas tank into the house.