A fire destroyed at least three condo units in a 55 and older community just outside Cheesequake State Park in Old Bridge Township today. The surrounding units in Cheesequake Village were evacuated as five fire companies, including Cheesequake and Matawan Borough, worked the blaze.
Firefighters appeared to have the fire at 7 Maine Court under control by 11:45 a.m. Old Bridge Police Captain Art Carulo said there were no injuries reported.
Firefighters used a ladder truck to access the collapsed roof and were seen throwing out charred beams and pieces of furniture as white smoke continued to pour out of the evacuated homes. The smell of smoke filled the air.
According to Cheesequake Volunteer Fire Company Chief Jack Kokoszka, the fire was fully involved when they arrived on the scene at about 10:30 in the morning. No one was home at the time the fire started, he said, and any neighbors that were at home were able to evacuate themselves before the fire department arrived. Kokoszka said it is suspected that the fire began in unit 7, but it was too early to confirm that. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Capt. Carulo explained that two of the ten attached condo units were vacant, and the majority of the residents from the remaining eight units will stay with family members in the area. One resident will be given housing through the Red Cross, he said.
"We're fortunate it's a calm day, not a lot of wind and a very moist, wet day," Carulo said.
Margaret Malinawski, 85, who lives in unit 7, said her morning was very normal. She woke up and had a bowl of cereal and went to the clubhouse to pick up her newspaper. She then traveled to the Hazlet Wellness Center for an informational seminar and when she returned, she saw the commotion.
"I saw fire trucks. I never believed it would be my house," she said.
Malinawski said inside her home, where she lived for the last 33 years, were all of her family photos, documents and personal belongings. Not yet allowed inside, she doesn't know what survived the blaze.
"My son has convinced me that I'm very lucky," she said, with tears welling in her eyes. "But right now I feel sick inside. I feel dead inside."
Vincent Fiore, 61, lives in the unit attached to Malinawski's and is a postal worker in Holmdel.
"I got it bad upstairs but she got it all through the house," he said. He is concerned about some documents, especially those from his service as a firefighter in the United States Air Force. However, Fiore was optimistic and said he is just glad no one was injured.
"It's bad, but what are you going to do? You move on," he said.
A neighbor from across the way said it was a frightening scene.
"It was scary," said Leon Supel, who had come home just 15 minutes before the fire erupted. "I walked past my window and saw flames shooting out."
Several fire companies responded to the five alarm fire, including Cheesequake, South Old Bridge, Laurence Harbor, Matawan and Morganville. Sayreville and Monroe Fire Departments provided coverage for Old Bridge during the blaze.