Fire leaves 3 homeless, pet dead

Photo by JeffStang91 on YouTube Firefi ghters train hoses at fl ames raging from 86 Belmont. BOTTOM LEFT: Fire wrecked house an d part of rear garage.
Photo by JeffStang91 on YouTube
Firefighters train hoses at flames raging from 86 Belmont. 


A 91-year-old woman and two men made it safely out of a burning Belleville house Saturday night.

Unfortunately, a pet dog – reportedly, a Rottweiler mix – did not survive.

And the two-story, twofamily wood frame residence at 86 Belmont Ave., at the corner of Jeraldo St., just down the block from the newly-closed Pathmark, did not fare well, either.

Fire Capt. George Del- Grande of the Belleville Fire Department said the BFD was alerted to the fire at 7:21 p.m. and, when the first units arrived, “there were some reports of people trapped inside.”

According to one published report, one of the two upstairs male tenants got out through the first floor while the other climbed out on to a second-floor awning and down a ladder with help from police officers.

Those tenants were placed in motel rooms by The American Red Cross for the time being, DelGrande said.

Ellaree Smith, 91, the downstairs tenant, told The Observer that someone who happened to be walking past the building “knocked on my window and said, ‘Get out. The house is on fire.’ It scared me to death.”

But, grabbing her wooden cane, she said she managed to get out of her apartment on her own power and made it outside without mishap.

She said a neighbor offered her temporary shelter until longtime friend Councilman Marie Strumolo Burke, who lives on the next block, came along and offered to put her up as a guest in her Heckel St. house.

Meanwhile, the fire – which, according to Del- Grande, “appears to have started in a couch on the back porch” – raged on, extending to the upper floor and a “loft” in a garage in the rear of the house.

And, DelGrande said, when firefighters arrived, “there was fire exposure to the neighboring residential structure to the south at 84 Belmont,” which, he said, was separated from the fire building by only about two feet.

Photo courtesy BFD Fire wrecked house and part of rear garage.
Photo courtesy BFD
Fire wrecked house and part of rear garage.

“It was a good save [on 84 Belmont] – we had [hose] lines trained on that building as well as on 86,” he said. Police and firefighters evacuated tenants from 84 Belmont as a precaution, he added.

At 7:26 p.m., a mutual aid call went out which brought an engine each from Bloomfield, Nutley and West Orange to supplement Belleville’s two engines and a truck/ambulance, DelGrande said.

A third alarm was activated shortly afterward, he said. Altogether, at least 40 firefighters, commanded by Belleville Acting Battalion Fire Chief Frank Papaianni, were at the scene while fire personnel from North Arlington, Kearny and East Orange stood by at Belleville fire stations.

DelGrande said that while firefighters had sufficient water from hydrants to battle the blaze, they were presented with a challenge “when the fire got into the cockloft where they encountered some type of metal sheeting and plaster” and had difficulty dousing the flames in that area.

But, eventually, they succeeded and DelGrande said the fire was declared under control by 9:53 p.m.

Photo by Ron Leir Councilwoman Marie Strumolo Burke listens to displaced tenant Ellaree Smith as she reads some of her poetry.
Photo by Ron Leir
Councilwoman Marie Strumolo Burke listens to displaced tenant Ellaree Smith as she reads some of her poetry.

DelGrande said an investigation of the fire conducted by members of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Arson Squad in cooperation with the BFD arson investigator was still active. On Sunday, there was yellow tape up preventing access to the fire scene and investigators from the county prosecutor’s office and BFD at the location.

On Sunday afternoon, Ms. Smith – the displaced tenant – was resting comfortably in Strumolo Burke’s residence but was unhappy about the prospects of not returning to her apartment.

“I’ve got a lot of good clothes and 30 handbags there,” she said. “I hope I can get that back.”

But she was quite relieved and grateful that firefighters had managed to retrieve her files containing a slew of poems she has written – and several of which she has memorized – over the years.

As she adjusted to her new surroundings, sometime between midnight and 1 a.m., after word got out about her plight – with encouragement from the councilwoman – the Rev. Malachia Brantley, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Newark, came to the Heckel St. house to hold a worship service and offer prayers on behalf of Ms. Smith.

Ms. Smith, who said she has a nephew in Newark, has spent her entire life in the Silver Lake area of Belleville, living initially with her parents on Naples Ave. before moving to Belmont. After attending School No. 4 on Magnolia St., she began working at Westinghouse in Bloomfield where she continued for 36 years.

Now, both she and her First Ward council representative are in agreement that they want to see the Silver Lake firehouse on Franklin St. and just a few blocks from the Belmont fire – out of commission for several years because it needs repairs – back in service.

“Those firefighters who fought the fire were marvelous,” said Strumolo Burke. “But we want our Silver Lake house back because every minute – seconds – count when it comes to protecting our lives and property.”

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