By JOHN T. WARD
The fire that caused extensive to a 132-year-old Rumson mansion Monday proved a challenge to volunteer firefighters, some of whom were on the scene nearly seven hours, Chief Kevin McCarthy tells redbankgreen.
“It’s a big, older house, so there’s lots of tough spots to get into,” said McCarthy. “It took a while to get it all mopped up.”
There was no official word on a possible cause of the blaze. McCarthy referred questions to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office, where a spokesman said information was not immediately available Tuesday morning.
The Buena Vista Avenue home, known as Blithewald and owned by Tom Widener, was undergoing extensive redecorating for the monthlong VNA Stately Homes by the Sea fundraiser, which was to have kicked off with a gala this coming Saturday.
The first responders to the call, which came in at about 12:55 p.m., encountered heavy smoke and fire at the three-story, 10,000-square-foot mansion, McCarthy said.
“There were attempts to make entry,” said McCarthy, who arrived later, “but I believe the first arriving units started with an exterior attack because of the volume of fire and smoke.”
Over the course of the afternoon, the firefighting effort went to four alarms as volunteers from Rumson, Fair Haven, Little Silver, Red Bank, Middletown, Asbury Park, Atlantic Highlands, Highlands and Shrewsbury had a hand in fighting the fire or providing mutual aid coverage for the borough, McCarthy said.
Firehoses snaked about a half-mile down Buena Vista, across Rumson Road and up the long driveway to the house, built in 1883.
McCarthy and the last remaining firefighters left the scene at about 7:30 p.m., he said. County fire marshals were still on the scene at the time, he said.
More than 40 decorators and landscapers had worked for months to transform Blithewald for this year’s event. Some were inside the house at the time of the fire, but none were injured, according to multiple reports.
The Widener family was reported not to have been living in the home at the time of the fire.
In a statement, the VNA said it would provide updates as they become available about the gala scheduled for Saturday and the house tours, which were to have begun next Monday and run through May 31.
The fire is the second setback to in recent years for the nonprofit VNA’s widely anticipated showcase fundraiser. In 2013, a van shuttling tour participants hit a dumptruck on Rumson, just around the corner from Blithewald, causing at least one serious injury.