Firemen fight exploding shells


Staff Writer

     Firemen battled heat and exploding bullets Tuesday but could not prevent a blaze of undetermined origin from destroying a home on Haines Street.

     The fire dealt a substantial loss to the young residents of the house, Jeff and Norma Townsend, both 24, who said they had no insurance on the furniture and other items that were destroyed.

     The house was unoccupied at 10:46 a.m. when the fire was reported, and Mrs. Townsend feared for the lives of her cats.

     “My cats!  My cats!” Mrs. Townsend cried as she arrived on the scene and saw white and brown smoke pouring from the two-story, red-shingled home.

     She dropped to her knees and buried her face in her hands while her husband put his arms around her.

     The blaze was discovered by next-door-neighbor Edward Pettit, whose 93-year-old mother, Marion, owns the seven-acre tract on which the burned house is situated. The house was insured. The Townsends had rented the home from Mrs. Pettit for two years.

     Pettit said he was leaving his own house when he heard an explosion at the Townsends’ home.

     “It went with a ‘woosh’” Pettit said. “It must have been burning in there for a long time. That’s what blew out the windows.”

     Pettit said he looked over to the Townsends’ home and saw smoke billowing from the two upstairs windows. He called the fire department and also Jeff Townsend, who was working at his parents’ business, Townsend’s Marina on Lacey Road.

     “I got there before the firemen,” Townsend said. He and his younger brother, Paul, rushed into the house and tried to recover valuables from the downstairs, which had not yet been reached by fire, but thick smoke aborted their salvage mission.

     The men dragged out a stereo receiver, but it had been melted into uselessness.

     “We had two cats in the house,” Townsend said. “I don’t know if they got out. I don’t think so. I think the smoke must have gotten them.”

     Volunteer fire companies from Lanoka Harbor and Forked River arrived on the scene and turned their hoses onto the house.

     Marge Brenner, a member of the Lanoka Harbor First Aid Squad, said her unit was on a drill at the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station when the call of a fire came through.

     “At the drill, we heard that this was happening and this is the real thing, so we came over here,” Mrs. Brenner said.

     As the fire raged, ammunition stored in the attic exploded in staccato fashion. Jeff Ryan, who led the Lanoka Harbor company’s attack, said the ammunition, .22-caliber shells, exploded but did not really fly toward the firefighters.

     Ryan and the other men, wearing the heavy coats and other gear necessary for the job, perspired profusely in the late morning heat and humidity. Most of the men sought relief from Mrs. Brenner, who dispensed oxygen and lemonade.  

     The age of the structure presented another obstacle, according to police Lt. Michael Murphy. He said the beams were so old and dry that they continued to smolder as the firemen poured thousands of gallons of water on the house.

     By 12:3 p.m. the smoke had finally cleared. Township building inspector Louis D’Arienzo stepped inside and called the place a total loss.

     Pettit said the house represented the upgrading of a barn that had been built in 1803.

     “It’s too bad,” Pettit said. “The poor kids have lost everything. Their clothes, their furniture, everything.

     Later in the day, an investigation by the state arson squad turned up no sign of foul play. The Lacey police report on the fire said the blaze appeared to have started in the home’s living room.

     Along with Lt. Murphy, Sgt. Henry Krzeckowski and Sgt. Daniel Pierson investigated for Lacey police.

The Beacon, Manahawkin, NJ, 07/29/82