A fierce, fast-moving fire destroyed a townhouse in the Sturwood Hamlet development in Lawrence Township before dawn today (Thursday, Sept. 6) and sent three residents to a local hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.
Several volunteer firefighters who were trying to advance a hoseline through the burning home narrowly escaped being seriously injured or killed when the second floor collapsed and an oven and other kitchen appliances fell to the floor below, just feet from where they were working, according to fire officials at the scene.
The cause of the blaze at 41 Featherbed Court, not far from Denow Road, is currently under investigation by township police and fire officials and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
Volunteer firefighters, emergency medical personnel and other support services from Ewing, Hopewell Borough, Princeton, Trenton and East Windsor responded to the fire scene to help out.
It was just before midnight Wednesday when a 911 call was received from a resident reporting the home was on fire.
Police officers immediately headed toward Featherbed Court, while pagers for all three township fire companies – Lawrenceville, Lawrence Road, and Slackwood – were activated, summoning volunteer firefighters from their own homes, at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. A Lawrence Township Emergency Medical Service ambulance crew was also dispatched.
The first police officers arrived on the scene by 12:02 a.m. to find smoke issuing from the attached garage of the three-story townhouse, which was located at one end of a row of eight attached, similarly-sized homes.
The residents – a husband and wife and their son – had already fled the burning house. Suffering from smoke inhalation, they were rushed by ambulance to Capital Health System’s hospital in Hopewell Township, according to officials.
Lawrenceville Fire Chief Gary Wasko arrived at 12:04 a.m., quickly followed by other fire officers. The first fire engine, Lawrenceville’s Telesquirt 23, reached the scene at 12:07 a.m., followed 30 seconds later by Lawrence Road’s Engine 22, according to the official incident dispatch log from Mercer County Central Communications. Additional fire units then followed.
Lawrence Road Fire Chief Shaun Dlabik and Lawrenceville Assistant Chief Dave Burns were on the front porch, in the process of donning the masks for their breathing apparatus prior to entering the smoke-filled home, when the storm door suddenly blew open and a wall of smoke and flames knocked the two veteran firefighters off their feet and down a half-dozen steps. Fortunately, they were not hurt.
At about the same time, officials said, the sliding glass doors at the rear of the house exploded and flames began to shoot out like a blowtorch.
Spraying water from a hoseline, a team of firefighters then pushed back the flames at the front porch and entered the house. Due to the home’s split-level layout, firefighters could either go up or down, officials said. With flames shooting up toward them from the lower level, they headed down, extinguishing fire as they went.
But the heat was so intense, officials said, that the hose team was not able to get very far down the stairs. They were still trying to move forward when, just before 12:20 a.m. according to the dispatch log, the beams supporting the second-floor kitchen burned away and the stove and other appliances crashed down to the exact area the hose team was headed toward.
At that point, with conditions inside the home unsafe and rapidly deteriorating, Wasko ordered all firefighters to evacuate the interior of the house and instead battle the flames from the exterior using multiple hoselines from the ground and from ladders.
Additional volunteer firefighters from the Pennington Road and Prospect Heights fire companies of Ewing Township and the Hopewell Borough Fire Department were called in to help battle the blaze, while crews from Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad, East Windsor District 1 Rescue Squad, and the Signal 22 canteen service from Trenton all responded for support.
Among the township officials who responded to the fire scene from home to lend their support were Township Manager Richard Krawczun and police Lt. Thomas Ritter.
With some sections of the home inaccessible due to the interior collapse, pockets of fire continued to smolder for some time. It wasn’t until 1:50 a.m. that the blaze was officially declared under control. Firefighters remained on the scene dousing hot spots and assisting investigators until after 4 a.m.
At least one firefighter was treated at the scene for minor burns suffered while fighting the blaze, officials said.
A brick fire wall was credited by firefighters with helping keep the flames from spreading to the adjacent townhouse and the other homes in the row.
This is the second major fire to occur in Lawrence Township in recent weeks. On Aug. 13, .
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- Aug. 15: “”