Memorial Day Blaze Guts Verona Home
Police: No known injuries in fire.
A fire tore through a Morningside Road home in Verona this afternoon, which some neighbors said had been a continuing source of headaches for the neighborhood, despite being vacant for several years.
Officials on the scene said no one was injured in the blaze, which started around 1 p.m. Monday, at the height of Memorial Day barbecue time.
At the scene, the street was packed with emergency vehicles on mutual aid calls from all over West Essex to provide support to the Verona Fire Department, including Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, and North Caldwell. Onlookers of all ages crowded the sidewalks outside the police tape. The air was filled with a thick, chemical-laden odor mixed with the smell of charred wood as the house smoldered, and firefighters moved in and out of the house.
Neighbors opened their homes and yards to the dozens of firefighters at the scene, providing cold water to drink and some friendly words of encouragement as they took breaks from battling the blaze. Members of the Verona Rescue Squad were on hand, ensuring the firefighters did not become dehydrated in the muggy, 90-plus degree heat.
Neighbors of the 34 Morningside Road home reported seeing flames shooting out of the windows and front door, melting vinyl siding on a neighboring house "like candle wax." Essex County Arson Squad members were seen combing through debris in the back yard, where the fire reportedly started.
Other neighbors reported hearing an explosion or an explosion-like sound from the rear of the property. The house appeared charred on both floors, and dark, large scorch marks could be seen on the facade of the home near windows and doors.
Tim Rodner, who lives across the street from the scorched home, said he was in the backyard preparing his grill for a Memorial Day cook-out when a construction worker doing work at a nearby home came onto his lawn and said he saw smoke.
Rodner said at that moment, he turned to face his neighbor's house, and saw dark, brown smoke and debris emanating from the house.
"Five minutes after I spotted the smoke, flames were shooting out of the front door."
Charred bits of debris littered lawns and sidewalks for blocks around the burned home.
Lisa Freschi, a resident of nearby Hillside Avenue said she was returning home from a Memorial Day beach weekend with her family when she saw the firetrucks on Morningside.
"I saw the road was blocked off and my neighbor called me to ask if I had seen the fire. I still have my suitcases in the car," she said.
Verona Fire Chief Pat McEvoy, who was busily coordinating the multi-town effort via an SUV-mounted radio, said at the scene that the fire had been brought under control, and that the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Neighbors of the house said it had been unoccupied for as many as five years leading up to the fire, and that just recently it had been rented out to an acquaintance of the owner. Some complained the home had been poorly maintained.
"That house was not fit for human habitation," said one neighbor who asked not to be identified. Others called the house "A junk yard", and "A disaster waiting to happen." Neighbors' complaints ranged from everything from rats in the backyard to garbage piling up.
"As soon as I heard a house on this street had caught fire, before I even saw, I knew it was [34 Morningside]," said one neighbor.
The fire was brought under control about 90 minutes after it started. The home's owner, who showed up at the scene and stood by as the emergency workers did their jobs, had no comment.
Check Patch for updates as they become available.