EAST NEWARK –
Five adults and a dog were left homeless after a fire swept through a two-level duplex on Grant Ave. and scorched part of the East Newark municipal garage last Tuesday night, authorities said.
The N.J. State Fire Marshal was called in to investigate the cause of the blaze which took more than 50 firefighters from six communities about four hours to bring under control.
Borough Police Chief Anthony Monteiro said that Mark Sadonis, the local construction code official, has deemed the duplex building at 246 Grant an “unsafe” structure. Now the owner Robert Casyan, one of the building’s residents, will likely have to tear down what remains of the structure and decide whether he will rebuild. The adjacent residence at 244 Grant, meanwhile, sustained some smoke damage and three broken windows.
No injuries to any civilians or firefighters resulted, according to Monteiro, who lauded the firefighters’ efforts in preventing the fire from spreading to nearby homes. “To me, it was a good save,” he said.
Still, the morning after the fire, most of the building’s second floor was gone and the first floor was in ruins. Meanwhile, the borough garage, next to the duplex, had “about 20 feet of charred up wood between the roof and the [north] wall,” Monteiro said.
Luckily, the chief added, the flames did not penetrate the wall so “we didn’t lose any equipment,” which included a backhoe, rescue boat, tow truck and an old police SUV inherited by DPW.
They’ll all be checked for possible damage from water and/or the extreme heat to which the garage was exposed during the blaze, the chief said.
Given the containers of fuel also stored in the garage, “things could have been a lot worse,” Graham said.
As of last Wednesday, when The Observer visited the fire scene, the garage was expected to be “back on line by the end of the day,” once power was restored to the structure, Graham added.
Monteiro said the fire is believed to have started in the living room of the first floor front apartment. Monteiro speculated that the building’s age and dry wood composition, coupled with its “balloon structure, from top to bottom,” may have accounted for the fire spreading so rapidly.
He said the fire was reported at 10:36 p.m. by a borough police officer driving by the Grant Ave. building at the same time as a 911 emergency call from a resident was received at police headquarters.
According to Monteiro, the owner was trying to put out the fire with a garden hose before advising one of the building’s residents to call in the report of fire.
“When we got there, the building was fully engulfed in fire,” Graham said.
As the fire escalated, the borough called for outside help under its mutual aid agreement and it came from Harrison, Kearny, North Arlington, Lyndhurst and Jersey City, with Secaucus providing stand-by coverage for the borough.
John St. resident Marta Lopes heard the fire engines roaring on to Grant, saw tons of smoke filling the air and a horrible thought struck her. “At first I thought it was the factory,” she said, referring to the former Clark Thread/First Republic complex that takes up much of the west side of Grant.
As firefighters set up to fight the blaze, police and others roused residents from several homes on Grant as a precaution. Michael Bell, one of them, said: “I was sleeping. I got woken up by people yelling for us to get out.”
Bell, his wife Kathy and son Justin, heeded the advice. “We had to close all our windows,” Kathy said. “We were up all night.”
“The whole street filled with smoke,” Justin recalled. “You couldn’t see in front of your face.”
When the smoke began to dissipate, they and other residents got a sense of what was up. “Those firefighters worked hard,” Michael said. “They had five hoses going at the fire. And Public Service [Electric & Gas] was out here to fix the [power] lines that were swaying.”
One resident of 246 Grant had an up close and personal experience with the fire. Ryan Carson, a construction worker and pharmacy technician who used to live in Kearny, had just finished a late dinner of pork and shrimp and was strolling to his porch.
At that point, Carson said, “I see my next-door neighbor frantically ringing my doorbell telling me there was a fire, to get out of the house. All of a sudden, I see his air-conditioner on fire and black smoke is pouring out the window so I run upstairs to get my dog Zoe (a female Wheaton terrier). Flames are shooting out the window and our apartment is filling with smoke. But my dog is 11 years old and she doesn’t like to be picked up.”
Now frantic, Ryan looked to the firefighters for help and got it: East Newark Volunteer Fire Lt. Christopher Hidrovo and Lyndhurst Volunteer Firefighter Andrew Wagner located the unconscious Zoe on the kitchen floor and, with the aid of a Harrison firefighter/ EMT’s breathing mask, revived her.
And members of Kearny Fire Department’s Engine Co. 1 emerged from 244 Grant with a resident’s pet parakeet safe and secure.
Monteiro said the displaced residents were being temporarily housed in an area motel by the Red Cross until they find places to stay with relatives.