Panic turns blaze into inferno

5 02 2008

PASSAIC — A candle started a house fire on Howe Avenue over the weekend, but it was the panicky actions of the home’s owner that turned the bedroom blaze into a raging three-alarm inferno, fire officials said Monday.

No one was severely injured in the Saturday night fire that broke out at 182 Howe Ave., but the fire left 20 people homeless and the entire 2 1/2-story house gutted and beyond repair, Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost said.

“It was a total loss,” he said. But no one was severely injured in the fire, officials said.

Fire inspectors also were examining the possibility that the house contained illegal apartments in the basement and attic, Trentacost said, although the fire did not start in those areas. Instead, it is believed that the fire ignited in a first-floor bedroom, Trentacost said.

A woman who lived in the room later told fire inspectors that she left a candle burning that somehow ignited a bedspread. The owner of the house, whose name was not immediately available Monday, but who is related to the woman, tried to extinguish the flames by pulling off the bedspread. In trying to put out the flames, he burned his hand and then fled, leaving doors open along the way. That was the crucial mistake, Trentacost said: “He created a natural chimney for the fire to extend to the second floor.”

Firefighters arrived about 11:20 p.m. to find flames shooting from the front and side windows of the house. Five minutes later, a second alarm was called, followed by a third. Firefighters were able to bring the blaze under control just after midnight, Trentacost said.

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