Update: 5:40 a.m. Aug. 13:
Smoke detectors are being credited with saving the lives of two men who, thanks to the warning provided by the fire safety devices, managed to escape to safety moments before flames engulfed their Lawrence Township home early today (Monday, Aug. 13).
“No doubt about it. Smoke detectors saved two lives tonight,” Mercer County First Assistant Fire Marshal Jim Greschak said about 3 a.m. today as he stood opposite the smoldering ruins of what, just hours earlier, had been a two-story home in the 100 block of Fountayne Lane, off Lawrence Station Road.
The two-alarm blaze – which was reported to Lawrence Township police about 12:20 a.m. – destroyed the one home and, for a time, threatened to consume the homes next-door on either side. But thanks to the efforts of volunteer firefighters spraying water from multiple hoses on the ground and from the tips of two raised ladders, the two neighboring homes were saved and sustained mostly only exterior siding damage from the blaze’s intense radiant heat.
The owner of the destroyed home suffered burns to his face, but declined transport to a hospital, fire officials said. The man’s name was not immediately available.
The cause of the blaze is currently under investigation by township police and fire officials, along with the Mercer County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
Slackwood Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Michael Oakley, who directed firefighting efforts, said the homeowner told investigators he was awake reading in his bedroom at the rear, second-floor of the house when a battery-operated smoke detector went off.
Believing it to be a false alarm likely caused by a dying battery, the man went downstairs to retrieve a fresh battery, Oakley said. Oakley said the home’s primary hard-wired fire alarm system then began to sound and homeowner encountered smoke as he descended the stairs to the first floor.
The homeowner told investigators that flames shot out, the heat burning his face, when he opened a door leading into the home’s laundry room, according to Oakley. With the laundry room and garage already ablaze, the homeowner roused the only other person in the house at the time – his father – and the two fled outside with the family dog. Once outside, the dog ran off and, amid the chaos that followed, could not immediately be located.
Officials said the homeowner’s wife and children were out of town.
Oakley said volunteers from the Slackwood and Lawrence Road fire companies were initially dispatched to investigate a fire alarm activation called in by the company that monitors that property’s alarm system.
But township Police Officer Shaun Sexton, who at the time happened to be on patrol on nearby Bakers Basin Road, arrived on Fountayne Lane in under a minute and advised responding firefighters that they had a “working structure fire.”
With confirmation of a real fire, Mercer County’s fire communications center – ironically located on Lawrence Station Road just down the street from the fire scene – immediately dispatched additional personnel from Lawrenceville Volunteer Fire Co., Prospect Heights and Pennington Road volunteer fire companies from Ewing Township, and Hamilton Township Fire District 4. An ambulance crew from Lawrence Township Emergency Medical Service was also dispatched.
Firefighters arrived on the scene just minutes after the first police officer did. By then, the house was engulfed in fire, with flames leaping dozens of feet into the night sky, sending smoke and embers billowing even further.
Realizing that the first house was beyond saving, fire crews concentrated their efforts on protecting the homes next-door. Firefighters dragged hoses into position to spray water on the sides of the neighboring homes whose siding had already started to melt and smoke. Meanwhile, water was rained down on the engulfed house from the nozzles at the tips of the raised aerials of Lawrenceville’s Telesquirt 23 and Hamilton’s Ladder 14.
Large diameter hoses connected to three hydrants in the neighborhood supplied the water for the firefighting efforts.
At one point, a propane cylinder on the back deck of the engulfed house exploded, sending some firefighters ducking for cover. The roof and other interior portions of that house soon collapsed as the flames ate away their support.
Ultimately, the blaze was brought under control within an hour, with the flames stopped from spreading into the neighboring homes. But firefighters continued to flow water on the smoldering ruins of the first house until about 4 a.m.
Officials said residents of the neighboring houses were allowed back into houses after firefighters confirmed there was no fire spread and a township building inspector deemed them safe. The displaced residents of the destroyed house, meanwhile, declined the services of the American Red Cross and made their own arrangements to stay elsewhere.
Investigating the fire are township police Detective James Smith, township Fire Marshal Dale Robbins, Greschak from the county fire marshal’s office and Detective Gary Wasko from the county prosecutor’s office.
Original post, 1:38 a.m. Aug. 13:
Firefighters battled a raging blaze at a Fountayne Lane house early Monday morning.
The house, off Lawrence Station Road, was engulfed in flames around 12:25 a.m. and two nearby homes were damaged. Smoke and burning embers were carried several stories into the air.
Small explosions could be heard from the fire and smoke could be seen throughout the area.
This story will be updated as more information is available.