State investigates suspicious three-alarm fire Vacant building blaze spreads to second home
by :Jim Hague
Feb 06, 2007 | 951 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Neighbor Luis Sanchez peered at the burned out remnants of a two-family house that stood near the corner of 71st Street and Park Avenue in Guttenberg Tuesday morning, a day after an intense three-alarm blaze destroyed the building.

Sanchez, who lives only a few doors down from where the fire began, shook his head.

"I told the police several times that there were homeless people in that house all the time," Sanchez said. "I called at least five times to complain. I knew something bad was going to happen."

While Guttenberg police will admit that the building was vacant for several months and was a site that vagrants frequented, they believe that the fire was not caused by any of the homeless residents.

"We did have vagrants there," said Guttenberg Police Lt. Joel Magenheimer. "The owner was notified about the ongoing problem and the place was boarded up, so they couldn't get in. We did have several complaints about vagrants being there, and they were definitely addressed by the Police Department. But we didn't have any complaints since the building was boarded up and secured."

However, according to Magenheimer, the cause of the fire is still under investigation, in which the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety is taking part because of its suspicious nature.

"It's under investigation by our fire inspector and the state," Magenheimer said.

The fire was deemed suspicious because its origin was found outside of the structure.

But neighbors believe that some of the vagrants were spotted outside the building in the hours before the fire broke out.

"They used to light fires in the back of the house to keep warm," Sanchez said. "Who knows what happened?"

Intense flames

According to North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue Deputy Chief Eric Inauen, the fire was called into the regional Monday morning at 2:32 a.m. and the first firefighters arrived at the scene three minutes later.

"It was a two-story vacant frame structure and there was heavy fire right away," Inauen said. "The fire severely damaged the second floor of the first structure and extended into the second structure located next door."

Inauen admitted that there were reports of an exterior fire on the first floor, but the NHRFR's official report did not list a cause or an origin.

"The fire might have started inside or possibly in the basement, but we won't know for sure until the investigation is completed," Inauen said.

Inauen said the fire immediately became "intense."

"Because of the intensity of the fire, with three alarms being called, we tried to aggressively fight the fire," Inauen said. "But because of the extensive fire, we went into defensive mode, once the primary search found no one inside. There was just too much fire, and that's the reason why they backed out."

While there was extensive damage to the primary structure, Inauen said that the damage to the second building, which was occupied, was kept to a minimum.

More than 65 NHRFR firefighters were on duty to fight the blaze and remarkably, no injuries were reported.

Inauen said that the regional remained on the site for about 12 hours to make sure the fire was completely extinguished, because it was smoldering into the next day.

"We have to keep our men there until the investigation is completed," Inauen said.

The Department of Fire Safety's investigation was not completed by press time.

Magenheimer said that the Guttenberg police was still questioning possible witnesses for the possibility of arson.

"No question, this is still being investigated," Magenheimer said.

Magenheimer said the homeless use vacant buildings in the winter months.

"It's an ongoing problem with vacant buildings," Magenheimer said. "The homeless need a place to go and they usually go to the vacant buildings. We are always on the lookout for them."
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