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.