The cause of Monday morning’s inferno that destroyed one house and damaged two neighboring homes on Fountayne Lane in Lawrence Township remains under investigation, authorities said Tuesday afternoon.
“Right now, the cause is undetermined,” Detective Sgt. Joseph Amodio, a Lawrence Township police spokesman, said. “It does not appear to be suspicious.”
Amodio and Lawrence Township Fire Marshal Dale Robbins both said investigators believe the blaze started in the laundry/utility room on the first floor of 126 Fountayne Lane.
Precisely what started it, however, is not yet known and determining that remains the focus of the probe being conducted by township police and fire officials, the Mercer County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
Investigators suspect two factors likely contributed to the significant and rapid spread of fire throughout the house.
The homeowner, upon opening the door to the laundry room, was unable to shut the door as he retreated from the flames that shot out from the room, causing burns to his face, according to Robbins, the township fire marshal.
With the door open, the fire had easy access to spread unimpeded to other parts of the home’s interior, he said.
Compounding that, he said, was the fact that the flames were being fed by natural gas.
Robbins said the investigators believe that – at some point after the fire started – a natural gas line in the burning laundry room separated from the clothes dryer, allowing gas to flow freely to fuel the flames and create a blowtorch-like effect.
Amodio on Tuesday confirmed that the first 911 call received by township police about the fire on Fountayne Lane came in at 12:20 a.m. Monday (Aug. 13) from a neighborhood resident.
The official incident report from the Mercer County agency responsible for dispatching firefighters in Lawrence Township and most other municipalities in the county, meanwhile, shows that a separate call was received at 12:20 a.m. from a private alarm monitoring company reporting that a smoke detector had been activated at the home at 126 Fountayne Lane.
Township volunteer firefighters, in turn, were dispatched at 12:22 a.m. to investigate that fire alarm activation. But less than two minutes later, additional firefighters were dispatched for a “working structure fire” following the arrival on the scene of a township police officer who radioed a report that 126 Fountayne Lane was already completely engulfed in flames.
By 12:33 a.m., according to the dispatch center’s report, township volunteer firefighters had three fully-staffed fire engines on the scene.
Slackwood Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Michael Oakley, who directed firefighting efforts Monday morning, previously told Patch that 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. The home’s primary hard-wired fire alarm system – monitored by the company that made the phone call to the county dispatch center – then began to sound and homeowner encountered smoke as he descended the stairs to the first floor.
The homeowner, according to Oakley, told investigators that flames shot out, the heat burning his face, when he opened the door leading into the laundry room.
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. Despite the burns to his face, the homeowner later declined transport to a hospital.
The conflagration destroyed 126 Fountayne Lane but the homes on either side were saved and only suffered damage to their exteriors on the sides closest to the fire.
Helping Lawrence Township firefighters battle the blaze were fire companies from Ewing and Hamilton townships.
Additional fire companies from Pennington Borough, West Windsor Township and Hamilton Township relocated manpower and equipment to the Lawrence Road Volunteer Fire Co. firehouse in the center of Lawrence Township and stood by there for several hours early Monday to provide protection to the rest of the township in the event another emergency occurred while the fire on Fountayne Lane was being fought.
- Aug. 13: "Blaze Destroys Lawrence House, Damages Two Others"
- Aug. 14: "Fountayne Lane Firefighter Response Times Reviewed"