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FIRE VICTIM RECOUNTS ESCAPE

A worker boards up windows of the burned-out house on Friday. Below, Ryan Howard talks to a policeman during the fire. (Photo above by Stacie Fanelli. Click to enlarge)

By STACIE FANELLI

Before dawn last Thursday, Ryan Howard woke to the sounds of his dog barking and children screaming outside his bedroom window.

“Why are the kids out playing at this hour?” his wife, Nicole, asked him. It was 3:15 a.m.

Concerned, Howard peeked outside and saw flames erupting from the adjoining portion of the Red Bank duplex in which they lived, at 46-48 Hudson Avenue.

After getting his wife and two dogs outside to safety, Howard re-entered the house to get his keys so he could move their cars to give firefighters access, he told redbankgreen.

By the time he’d done so, the entire back of the house was engulfed in flames.

Borough Fire Marshal Stanley Sickels has determined the fire began on or under the neighbors’ backyard deck, probably as a result of a discarded cigarette. Flames from the fire became trapped under a canopy roof that spanned the two residences, entering the second-floor wall cavity and the attic by the time firefighters arrived.

Stephanie Stirnweiss, who lived with her two children, aged 9 and 10, and fiance in the side of the house where the fire began could not be located for comment. All got out safely, Sickels said.

“It’s just a freak accident,” said Howard, who had lived in the house for three years. “I have no animosity toward these guys.”

Howard, who works for a technology distributor in Shrewsbury and coaches boys’ lacrosse at Red Bank Regional, is pleased to have temporary shelter nearby at his in-laws’ Middletown home. Nicole is an in-home personal trainer whose job is still accessible thanks to her husband’s quick thinking that saved their cars.

The house is uninhabitable, but the Howards have every intention of moving back to Red Bank.

“My wife has said, ‘No more sharing walls,’ so we’re going to look for a place of our own,” Howard said.

The couple lost many of their possessions in the fire, but Howard said the outcome could have been much worse.

“We’re lucky,” he said. “I’m just glad we woke up.”

Howard’s younger brother, Matt, has put a plan into action to get the couple back on their feet.

Using the website chipin.com, he began a “Help the Howards” campaign. The site allows anyone, friends or strangers, to donate money that will go toward replacing everything the couple lost in the destruction.

A Facebook page that links to the donation site explains Matt’s motivation: “[Ryan] told me that there’s no way for me to help. Let’s prove my big brother wrong.”

At the end of the first day of fundraising, the campaign had already collected over $1,000. Donations have come from family in London and strangers in Red Bank.

Of the response, he said, simply, “I’m astounded.”

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