The fire began in mulch ignited by a discarded cigarette or match at the 12-unit Oakland Square apartments, officials said. The top of a smoking pole is visible at right. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
A discarded cigarette or match appears to have ignited a blaze that sent two people to the hospital and left 12 families without a home Sunday morning, officials said.
Effects of the 9:05 a.m. fire, at the three-story Oakland Square apartments at Oakland and West streets, sent a tenant and a volunteer Fair Haven firefighter to Riverview Medical Center, Red Bank Fire Chief Wayne Hartman told redbankgreen — the first for smoke inhalation and the other for heat exhaustion.
Their names and conditions were not immediately available.
Though fire damage was limited to the exterior and the attic above two units, some experienced water damage, and all were affected by smoke, prompting officials to declare the entire two-year-old structure temporarily uninhabitable.
Among those displaced was Brandy Gaetano, who said she’s resided in her second-floor northeast unit since the building opened in 2017.
Gaetano said she first thought her window was being darkened by a passing cloud when a man she didn’t know “banged on my door and told me we had to get out.” She fled with her sister and niece, who are visiting from Colorado, and her dog, she said.
Gaetano told redbankgreen that as of noon, she had “no idea” where she would be spending the night.
Red Cross volunteers were on-scene helping residents arrange temporary housing, replacement of medication and other assistance, a volunteer said.
The total number of people affected wasn’t immediately available.
Volunteer firefighter J.T. Pierson, who is slated to become Red Bank Middle School principal July 1, said one of the school’s current students lived in an apartment at the eastern end of the building, and a former student lived in an adjoining apartment.
According to Fire Marshal Tommy Welsh, the blaze started in mulch placed against the building’s northeast corner, in a grassy area bordered by a tall fence and a trash enclosure.
The cause, he said, “appears to be mulch ignited by improperly discarded smoking materials,” such as a cigarette or match. The area, which had a “smoking pole” for discarding butts and matches, was known to be a smoking area for residents, he said.
Welsh said firefighters had responded to a smoking-related mulch fire along the Oakland Street side of the building last year.
In the latest incident, Hartman said the flames from the burning mulch traveled up along the vinyl-sided exterior to the third-floor eaves, where they entered the attic.
Firefighters on opened the roof to vent heat and smoke and gain access to the fire, he said. Firewalls between sections of the building prevented the blaze from traveling across the width of the attic or into dormers that extend some of the living spaces, Hartman said.
The fire was under control in about half an hour, he said.
Fire crews from Fair Haven, Middletown, Tinton Falls responded, with backup by Little Silver and Rumson/Sea Bright.
The building was constructed in 2017 at Oakland and West streets, one block east of the train station by borough-based developer Roger Mumford. It was the affordable-housing component to a project that included Station Place, on Monmouth Street, and is now owned by G.S. Realty Corp. of Freehold, according to Monmouth County property records.