SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Five people were killed and four others were injured early Thursday morning after a fire swept through a large home in South Plainfield. Authorities are still searching for answers and trying to figure out what caused the unspeakable tragedy.
Killed in the fire were 62-year-old Ann Jefferson and four of her grandchildren: 2-year-old Elijah, 3-year-old Christopher, 12-year-old Alize and 7-year-old Tyler.
The mother of the children, Natalie Jefferson, along with three other children — 14-year-old Jaquan and 8-year-old Jordan and Angel, 1, survived the fire that broke out around 3:15 a.m. inside the century-old home on Clinton Avenue.
Jordan was rushed to the burn unit at St. Barnabas Medical Center and is in critical condition.
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“This is the worst fatality fire in South Plainfield history,” Fire Chief Tom Scalera said.
South Plainfield fire officials said when firefighters arrived, the first floor of the home was fully engulfed in flames.
“We made the best attempts that we could to go in to those particular rooms and areas. There was just a very large volume of fire that we were presented with upon arrival,” Deputy Fire Chief Lawrence DelNegro said. “The heat was just so very bad, even with a very large hose line they were pushed back.”
The fire also woke up neighbors, some of whom took dramatic pictures of the raging blaze. Witnesses described a chaotic scene.
“It was like fireworks, it was very fast. The fire just spread out through the whole house,” said neighbor Isabelle Scavino.
As flames shot out of the two-family home, Damian Scavino watched two friends — one of the boys on a stretcher and his 12-year-old sister — being rushed out of the inferno.
“I saw the 12-year-old. She came out, she was okay, but he wasn’t,” Damian Scavino said.
“It was just really raging from one side,” added neighbor Eileen Rossow. “They were trying to fight it, but it was just really cranking up.”
Rossow said she heard a child screaming from the second floor of the house, but said firefighters weren’t able to reach him.
“The fireman was up here at the ladder and I heard a little boy calling for help and crying,” she said. “The flames shot out right at the fireman’s face and he had to come down.”
Witnesses said one of the surviving children tried to go back into the house for more of his siblings, but was stopped by firefighters.
“He wanted to go back and one of the policeman actually told him not to go back in the house,” Isabella Scavino said.
Firefighters said they were unable to say for sure whether smoke detectors were present or functioning.
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reports
Relatives said they’re trying to come to grips with the tragedy.
The father of 7-year-old Tyler, who was among the victims, came to the scene Thursday. Greg Davis was devastated after talking to the mother of the children in the hospital.
LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Eileen Lehpamer Speaks With One Of The Victims’ Father
“I said ‘Where’s Tyler?’ Then she said that she tried to get up the stairs and he was in her bedroom. I said ‘Where is Tyler?’ she said she don’t know,” Greg Davis told reporters, including 1010 WINS’ Eileen Lehpamer.
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do without him. I don’t know what it feels like until I live it,” Davis said.
“We’re all taking it hard. She loved those kids. Every last one of those kids were always with her,” relative Carla Fair said.
It took crews nearly three hours to get the flames under control. Most of the house was seriously damaged or destroyed.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office said two volunteer firefighters were treated for minor injuries after they crashed with another vehicle while on their way to the fire.
Officials are still investigating the cause of the blaze. They hope to have a preliminary cause and an answer to the smoke detector question after they return to the scene Friday morning.
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