A four-alarm fire broke out in the second floor of the two-story Westfield Hamilton House apartment complex just before midnight Sunday, leaving at least one man in critical condition at St. Barnabas Hospital and the occupants of seven other apartments homeless.
A MedEvac helicopter transported a male burn victim with "significant" facial burns and smoke inhalation. The victim was identified by witnesses as Roy Rentrop, whom residents say moved to the complex about a month ago, after selling his Wychwood home. He was transported to Saint Barnabas Medical Center, where he is listed in critical condition. The chopper landed and took off from a field near the Stop and Shop supermarket.
A neighbor who lives in the complex said Rentrop had been carried out of the building by firefighters and appeared to have difficulty breathing. The neighbor called 911 after smelling smoke coming from the building around 11:30 p.m.
As of 1:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon, Rentrop remained in critical condition in the burn intensive care unit at St. Barnabas. Rentrop, a widower, has one daughter and has previously worked in the financial services industry. He is a member of Echo Lake Country Club.
By midnight, six fire departments — Westfield, Mountainside, Scotch Plains, Springfield, Fanwood, Roselle Park and Cranford — had responded to the blaze. As of 1:30 Monday, flames continued to flicker above the roof line as two ladder trucks, one of which was from Roselle, continued to douse the building with water. Eventually, 12 departments answered the call. By 3 a.m., the flames had been extinguished, but crews kept dousing the section of the apartment complex that suffered the fire damage.
Westfield Fire Department Chief Daniel J. Kelly said the fire began in the section of the 28-unit complex that was built closest to Mountain Avenue and the Mountainside town line. Four of the units were destroyed by the fire. The other four in the cluster were protected by a firewall. They were evacuated pending further review to determine if there was any structural damage.
As firefighters were checking for clues on the start of the blaze, two investigators from the arson squad joined the hunt for the cause of the smoky blaze. Smoke from the fire was visible throughout Wychwood, as the smell of fire could be detected as far away as East Broad Street.
Kelly said that the arson team is always called in when a fire involves high-damage losses and/or civilian injuries. The cause of the fire is undetermined at this time.
According to another eyewitness, the fire appeared to start in one section of the U-shaped building, before engulfing the entire second floor. Virtually all of the roof also had collapsed by 2 a.m. Monday. A non-working chimney, which appeared to be a cosmetic addition to the building, was on the verge of toppling into the building after the roof gave way.
The affected building, one of six unconnected structures in the 28-apartment complex, is closest to Mountain Avenue, roughly 20 feet from the Mountainside border.
Alexandra Capaldo, manager of the apartment building, worked with the American Red Cross to get residents of the apartments emergency lodging in Hotel 304 West on Route 22 in Springfield.