Early morning blaze forces out 13 residents

Photo by Anthony J. Machcinski/ Scene of the early morning fire on July 5 in Harrison.



By Anthony J. Machcinski 


Thirteen Harrison residents were forced out of their homes on July 5 by a three-alarm fire that swept through two unattached buildings at 20 and 22 Washington St.

Members of the Harrison Fire Department reported to the scene at 3:30 a.m., just two minutes after the first calls for help were received. Requesting mutual aid from other communities to combat the fire was complicated by a county-wide telecommunications problem.

Quick-thinking dispatchers used personal cell phones to contact other fire departments.

A resident from 20 Washington St. first reported the fire after waking up and smelling smoke. Once he saw a glowing on the ceiling from the fire, he roused residents on the second and third floors and all got out safely.

Once on the scene, the Harrison first responders found heavy fire coming from the south and east sides of a three-story structure at 20 Washington St. After running hoses there, firefighters were eventually able to contain the fire, but not before the fire had spread to 22 Washington St., a four-story residence.

Harrison Fire Director Harold Stahl praised the seven men who arrived on scene first, saying, “They did one heck of a job in stopping the fire. This was nothing short of a heroic action.”

The first responding units were on scene for about 20 minutes before backup arrived. Units from Kearny, Jersey City, East Newark, Secaucus, and Bayonne all responded to the blaze.

The fire took about an hour to get under control, but units were still wetting down hot spots within the building around 6 a.m.

In total, 13 residents of 20 and 22 Washington St. were left homeless. A family of seven who lived in 22 Washington St. were relocated to a hotel with the assistance of the Red Cross and, as of press time, were still looking for permanent housing. Six people from 20 Washington St. had all found shelter with family and friends.

Investigators ruled the fire’s cause accidental. Stahl believed that the fire started in a light fixture on the ceiling on the second floor in 20 Washington St. where the ballast in the fluorescent light overheated and set fire to wood members.

Stahl described the damage in 20 Washington St. as “extreme,” with extensive damage to the south and east sides of the building. The roof had to be opened up in three places to vent the flames and smoke. Despite the extensive damage, Stahl said he believed that, “the house is probably going to be saved.”

The building at 22 Washington St., just south of 20 Washington, also had extensive damage on the north side. Stahl said that the house, “is also (currently) uninhabitable (but) should be repaired quicker than (20 Washington St.).”

Stahl said that no injuries had been reported, adding, “that is an amazing thing considering the fire was at 3:30 a.m.”

Stahl again praised the efforts of the first responders. “They kept the fire from being a whole lot worse. They had their hands full and they measured up to the task,” he said.

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