HAZLET –In 2019, there have been two serious house fires in town –one in January on South Laurel Ave. and the other in March, on Dundall Place.
Fortunately, nobody was hurt. In the first case, just before midnight, seven members of a family escaped the fire as it was breaking out. In the second case, it was midday, and the homeowner was out of the house. Neighbors noticed it and reported it to police.
The Monmouth County Fire Marshal’s Office was called in to determine the origin and cause of the fire. With the county prosecutor’s office, Hazlet police and fire company officials, they interviewed homeowners, checked utilities, took photographs, sifted through the char and used scientific methodology to figure out what happened.
The first fire, reported about 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 at a one-story, 4-bedroom home at 618 South Laurel Avenue, has been deemed “accidental” by the county fire marshal’s office under the direction of acting Fire Marshal Rick Hogan.
In their report, investigators said a heat lamp was being used in an unoccupied bedroom to grow plants in plastic containers. Through interviews, they said they learned the lamp had probably been on for two months. It was clamped onto a bed post and pointing at the vegetation. The room had not been visited in a few days. When it was found after the fire, the metal was melted away in the area of the electrical components and the components were also melted to the cloth material found on the floor.
Investigators said the fire originated under the bedroom window, continued up the wall to a window with an air conditioner unit. The air conditioning unit fell from the window, allowing the fire to self-vent. The fire reached the attic space and spread into an adjacent bathroom.
There were four adults and three children in the 1,700, four-bedroom house at that time, and all escaped the house without injury. Read an interview with the homeowner on the day after the fire.
The fire department attacked the fire from the inside out, keeping the fire damage contained, according to investigators. The rest of the house sustained smoke and water damage, they said.
In their February 12 report, the investigators said they could not rule out an improperly placed heat lamp or the use of the heat lamp to grow vegetation indoors as the cause of the fire.
The second fire at 11 Dundall Place in Raritan Valley section was on March 27 at 1:16 p.m.
“The fire is being listed as undetermined,” said Christopher Tuberion, deputy fire marshal, in the April 4 report.
“The investigative team was unable to rule out energized electrical equipment. The team was also unable to rule out improperly discarded lit materials as the cause to this fire,” the report said. “The victim’s statement to the Detectives indicate she is a smoker; however, denied having smoked or discarded lit material in the structure prior to the fire.”
The front of the split-level colonial with attached garage was heavily damaged by fire. See a photo of the fire in the article on Hazletonian.com. Investigators traced the burn pattern and believe the fire began in the kitchen/utility room, dining room/front foyer area, because that is where damage was most severe – with the kitchen side suffering more decomposition from the high temperature. The fire burned through the second floor.
Within the ceiling joists, they noted “beading” on one electrical wiring run, which can indicate whether the wire was carrying a current when the fire occurred. The report said the joist, at that location, was deeply charred and in the stages of complete pyrolysis, or decomposition from the high temperature.
The wiring run, connected to an electrical switch box that ran to a ceiling fan within the kitchen area, was completely damaged by fire and the wiring noticeably discolored, investigators said. There was deep charring of the wall stud only at the location of the switch box. The remainder of the stud received minimal fire damage.
“The ceiling fan motor was discovered in the fire debris and was found to freely spin; no electrical wiring remained connected to the motor at the time of its discovery,” investigators noted.
Ceiling joists in the dining room also showed heavy damage and deep pyrolysis, specifically in the area of the electrical wiring, they said.