Fifteen years after the first fire devastation, the residents of Edgewater in Bergen County witnessed a massive fire damage that sacked hundreds of residents and destroyed property worth millions of dollars – the second of such occurrence upon the same property. “It was like deja vu,” said Christina deMarothy, who witnessed both fires from her […]
Fifteen years after the first fire devastation, the residents of Edgewater in Bergen County witnessed a massive fire damage that sacked hundreds of residents and destroyed property worth millions of dollars – the second of such occurrence upon the same property.
“It was like deja vu,” said Christina deMarothy, who witnessed both fires from her home at the intersection of Russell and Undercliff avenues, across the street from the complex.
Owned by Avalon at Edgewater complex was reduced to rubbles and scorched timbers and a ever rising haze of choking smoke as the inferno took its toll on the residential building. Although no one has died in the Wednesday fire damage, it is considered the worst in the history of Bergen County when rated alongside the one that occurred in 2000. Two firefighters and two civilians suffered minor injuries. Police authorities say it is an accident.
During a press briefing where Gov. Chris Christie was present on Thursday afternoon, Edgewater Police Chief William Skidmore informed the public that Avalon maintenance workers were using a blowtorch to carry out some plumbing repairs within the first floor of the building when the fire broke out. But rather than call 911 to report the incident, the technicians called their supervisor – causing a 15 minutes delay before any emergency response arrived.
“It was mostly a big contributor because it was a delay in the response of the fire department,” he Skidmore, because the decision to contact their supervisor first “certainly didn’t help” in tackling the spread of the fire. However, the police chief said the workers would not be held for any criminal liability and described the fire as a “tragic accident.”
Raging for nearly 7 hours, 240 units of apartment out of the 408 units within the complex were totally razed down. Over 500 people lost their homes and property, and almost 520 others from nearby buildings got displaced with many having to seek shelter with friends or squat anywhere they could find.
“At times like this most people are concerned that they’ll be forgotten,” said Gov. Christie. “That’s why I’m here, to make sure people know that we won’t forget,” pledging his administration’s support to those affected by the fire outbreak.
But housing contractors and officials are blaming the inferno on the lightweight wood-frame construction of the building, adducing this to why the fire spread so quickly and destroyed so much.
“If it was made out of concrete and cinder block, we wouldn’t have this sort of problem,” Edgewater Fire Chief Thomas Jacobson said. “It’s very difficult because once it’s in the walls and floors, we’re chasing it.”
And David Kurasz, executive director of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, an industry trade group, said Wednesday’s fire perfectly illustrates the risks of lightweight wood construction, which is significantly cheaper than steel or concrete.
“The material is excellent under regular conditions,” Kurasz said. “As soon as you introduce fire to this type of construction materials, it fails very, very quickly.”
But AvalonBay’s chief construction officer, Michael Feigin, called wood-frame construction a “standard, common, and safe construction method for multifamily housing used throughout the United States. The community was built in accordance with the fire and safety codes applicable at the time,” Feigin said. “The purpose of those codes is not to prevent the building from burning down, but rather to ensure that there is sufficient time and opportunity for all occupants to exit safely in the event of a fire.
“We recognize the tremendous disruption that this incident has caused for residents and the community alike, and we are working with the Red Cross and local officials to assist residents,” Feigin added to assure the public as well as those affected by the fire damage.