Firefighters Control Four-Alarm Forest Drive Blaze
13 fire departments respond to blaze that destroyed 8-unit building at Short Hills Village apartment complex
Firefighters from 13 communities have united to extinguish a four-alarm fire that severely damaged an eight-unit building at the Short Hills Village apartment complex on Forest Drive, which abuts the Chanticler catering hall on Millburn Avenue.
According to the Incident Commander, Springfield Fire Department Chief James Sanford, Springfield firefighters responded shortly before 12:30 p.m. to a report of smoke coming from the attic of the two-story building. Upon entering the building, firefighters found a heavy fire coming from the attic. Shortly after, crews from 12 other fire departments were on the scene.
Fire companies and emergency medical services teams — including Summit, Westfield, Millburn, Union, Hillside, Roselle, Elizabeth, Cranford and Plainfield — responded with about 60 firefighters and four ladder trucks, nine engines and Emergency Management Services. They joined the Springfield Fire Department to fight the blaze and and provide comfort to residents who were forced from their homes. The fire was declared under control just before 2 p.m. and official extinguished by 3:30 p.m.
According to Sanford, the four-alarm blaze that spread across the 40-foot-by-200-foot roof broke out at the same time a work crew was doing a repair job. There is no official comment on how the fire started. It's unclear how many people were effected by the blaze, but officials say that many of the apartments were rented by families and that at least 20 people have lost their homes.
This is the second fire in 11 months to break out at the complex. On September 30, 2009, firefighters from Springfield, Millburn, Summit and Westfield battled a basement fire there. Nobody was injured during that fire.
Chief Sanford said that there were no civilian injuries; three firefighters went to area hospitals with a minor burn, a knee injury and a case of heat stress: a Union firefighter was transported to Overlook Hospital while two Springfield firefighters were taken to St, Barnabas.
"Thank goodness nobody was hurt," said Gary DeGregorio, CEO of Forest Realty, which owns the complex. "The fire department has done a great job any time there is an emergency here. We are working with the Red Cross to give temporary housing for all displaced families in the empty apartments we have"
A woman wrapped in a blanket stood out on the lawn. She held her baby and tried to comfort her other three children, all of whom were younger than six.
Newlyweds Rudy and Marie Altenor were in disbelief. They moved to Short Hills Village in February. "The super came knocking on the door, yelling that the building was on fire," Marie said. "So I grabbed the baby ( 3 1/2 month old Noah) and ran. Don't know anything about our possessions."
Marie called Rudy, who was at work in Newark. As he sped home on Route 78, he said he could see the smoke billowing above the trees. "Now is when I think about the things we should have done," he said. "We don't know if any of our stuff can be saved, but I know that I would have gotten renter's insurance."
The couple did find a silver lining in the tragedy. Thanks to a slow-moving photographer, they didn't lose their wedding photos in the fire, since they had not been delivered yet.
Julie Siciliano, from Colonial Crossroads Red Cross, said that she will remain on the scene until every displaced resident has found a place to go.
Traffic has been closed on Forest Drive; traffic on Short Hills Avenue is currently closed from Millburn Ave. to Morris Ave.
This is a breaking story. Springfield Patch will report more information as it becomes available. If you have photos of the fire, post them by clicking 'Add' in the photo block.