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No Injuries in Two-Alarm Attic Fire on Hazel Avenue

Cause of fire under investigation with lightning being indicated in initial reports.

No one was injured in a two-alarm attic fire on Hazel Avenue Thursday night.

The fire, the cause of which is still under investigation, broke out around 8:30 p.m. on Thursday evening at 119 Hazel Avenue. Witnesses in the area reported heavy smoke conditions and limited visibility in the neighborhood as the fire broke out.

“At the beginning of the fire you couldn’t see at all,” Maryanne Manna said.

Initial reports from BNN said that the fire was caused by a lightning strike to the home. Lightning bolts could be seen striking in the area and lighting up the sky at the time of the fire igniting. Home resident John Anton told Patch that he also believes the fire could have been caused by a window fan in the attic, which has been running for the last four to five days. Anton could be overheard telling firefighters at the scene that either lightning or the fan could have started the blaze, which was contained to the attic.

No one was in the attic when the fire started, according to Anton.

Anton could be overheard telling firefighters that he did not feel the house vibrate at all prior to the fire starting, which could indicate a lightning strike. Fire Chief Dan Kelly was unavailable for comment Thursday night, as he was working with fire investigators in the house to determine a cause of the blaze.

The Cranford, Roselle and Scotch Plains Fire Departments responded alongside Westfield, with the Cranford ladder truck handling the aerial attack of the fire. The Scotch Plains and Westfield Rescue Squads were on scene.

Anton said when the first Westfield engine responded; firefighters said they had to wait for the second engine to arrive from Fire House Number Two on Central Avenue to enter the home. Patch has learned this was due to fire regulations for “two in, two out,” which dictates that two firefighters be outside and prepared to enter a burning building while two firefighters are inside. The two firefighters based outside are for rescue of those inside the building. Each of Westfield engines was staffed by three firefighters Thursday night, as part of the town’s six-man duty crews in the Fire Department. Two of the firefighters on duty are used to operate the two pumper trucks.

The bulk of the fire was extinguished by the Westfield crew with the Cranford crew handling the remaining aerial response, through a hole cut in the roof. Fire damage was contained to the attic on the third floor, with smoke and water damage on the second and first floors.

“The third floor is pretty well charred,” a firefighter could be heard telling Anton at the scene.

Anton indicated that the attic contained various items, including Christmas decorations and clothing. He said the family’s books were on the first and second floor.

Anton was home with his wife, Kathleen, and 22-year-old son, Philip, a Manhattan resident who was staying with his parents while recovering from an illness, when the fire broke out. John Anton doing work in the basement when he heard the bell ring. Anton said he did not respond to the first bell, thinking it was the UPS deliveryman. With a second ring of the bell, Anton said he responded to find neighbor, Donna Wannet, telling him the house was on fire.

Anton ran to the second floor to see thick smoke in the hallway and flames blocking his way to the attic. Anton said he started seeing embers coming down the stairs towards the second floor, which he wanted to stop. He said he used a wet pair of pants to start extinguishing the embers.

“I’d like to believe that it contained the fire,” he said. “All I wanted to do is keep it in the attic.”

Anton said this was the second time he fought fire, noting he did it several years ago in a building at the Delaware Water Gap. Anton did not discuss the details of the first fire.

The fire attracted residents from Hazel Avenue and West Broad Street to watch. Councilman Jim Foerst, who lives several blocks away walked over to check on the Anton family, talking briefly to John Anton at the scene. Philip Anton could be seen working on a laptop on a neighbor’s front steps in the aftermath of the fire. Foerst asked Anton if the family needed assistance in finding a place to stay for the evening, which Anton said he had arranged.

A.John Blake June 10, 2011 at 12:42 PM
John Blake Isn't it ironic that the photo shows the Cranford aerial truck not the Westfield one. This is because we don't have enough men. There is no doubt that the roof needed to be vented as soon as possible to lessen the damage. The homeowner had to watch his house burn until Cranford could come to vent the roof and allow water to be put in the attic. I hope the owner will come to a Council meeting and ask the Council if his home was part of the labor negotiations with the WFD. He should ask the Council how much of his family's safety was considered when they lowered the number of firemen. The fire's cause is still to be determined but the extent of the damage can be laid at the feet of the Town Council.
sally cohen-alameno June 10, 2011 at 12:58 PM
I live right down the block and we heard an unreal sound a bit before we heard the fire engines. I would not be surprised if they discover it was lightening. I also wondered if the Cranford ladder truck was doing the bulk of the work because ours couldn't get there in time because of staff cuts....I saw ours parked on First St. I would love to hear if that is what happened....
pmr213 June 10, 2011 at 02:23 PM
Sally, it's a shame that our truck was unable to be used for the initial response. Your town council will tell you they are doing more with less. They are absolutely right, LESS fireman is creating MORE dangerous conditions. Once again, thank you Cranford for your help. Wake up Mayor!
pmr213 June 10, 2011 at 02:44 PM
Maybe Councilman Foerst can get these people to put one of his "grass roots" campaign signs on their front lawn. Nah, doubt it. Looks like you lost at least two votes Mr. Foerst. Instead of asking the family if they needed help finding a place to stay, maybe Mr. Foerst can start helping by getting us more fireman so he won't have to keep asking that question over and over again as fireman watch fires burn.
HOWARD KRAMER June 10, 2011 at 06:16 PM
I hope everyone realizes that the actions of Donna Wanat, a concerned neighbor, may have saved at least two lives. GET INVOLVED!! - MANY MANY THANKS TO HER.
pmr213 June 10, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Hats off to Donna Wanat, we truly do salute you. This is just the beginning. If the current state of affairs continues, Westfielders will not only be ringing their neighbors doorbell to alert them of a fire but will also start manning the garden hoses to extinguish the flames burning all in the name of labor negotiations and town saving money and not safety.
LLROWESTFIELD June 11, 2011 at 05:20 PM
If the town has not done anything by now they are not going to. Start buying extra insurance...
Kathy Anton June 13, 2011 at 06:45 PM
Donna is our hero! Without any smoke in the house, and with Phil and I in a closed bedroom with the air conditioner on, with John down in the basement on the computer, no one smelled a thing. She saved our lives! Thank you Donna! We are forever grateful.
South Westfielder June 14, 2011 at 01:11 AM
Finally, a great news item about community and neighbor looking out after neighbor! I will make an effort to think of how this every time I think about something I feel is rotten in Westfield.

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