CHEMICAL FIRE SETS OFF EXPLOSIONS

sailers-way-hoseFire hoses lie on the lawn of a Rumson home, which was the scene of an hours-long fire Friday. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

A chemical fire at a Rumson home Friday afternoon spurred the evacuation of two homes and kept emergency workers on the scene into Saturday morning trying to contain a cantankerous series of explosions.

“It sounded like the Fourth of July fireworks for about three hours,” said Bob Maras, who was one of dozens of volunteer responders who worked about 12 hours outside the home at 3 Sailers Way.

The cause of the fire, just off Rumson Road, was unknown Saturday, Maras said. But he speculated that a vehicle malfunction sparked the blaze.

He said the fire broke out in a pool cleaning company’s box-truck at the residence sometime around 2 p.m. Friday. Although firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the initial “fully involved fire,” its mix with chlorine set off a number of small explosions that occurred over the course of hours. The scene was cleaned up and cleared out by about 3 a.m. Saturday, Mayor John Ekdahl said.

Further hampering efforts was the presence of the chemical magnesium, which can’t be extinguished with water and is difficult to contain with typical firefighting agents, essentially forcing the responders — which included Monmouth County’s Hazmat team — to wait out the explosive chemical’s supply.

“We had a rough time with that,” Maras said.

It is unclear if there were any injuries, but Maras said the fire department evacuated two homes to keep the area safe.

One of the homes evacuated was of Julie Cohen, who lives next door to where the fire broke out.

She was not home at the time, but when she arrived back at about 8 p.m., she said firefighters were working to contain what appeared to be explosions at the property. The mix of chemicals, she said, gave off an offensive, indescribable odor.

“It was just awful,” she said. “A terrible smell, like a chemical smell.”

Cohen said she wasn’t sure if her neighbors were home when the fire broke out.

“They’re lucky their house didn’t go up,” she said.