SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — As investigators try to determine what caused a deadly New Jersey house fire that killed a grandmother and her four young grandchildren, police say they want to question a man who lived in the two-family home and hasn’t been seen since the blaze.
Police have stressed that the man they are looking to question is not a suspect. He lived in an apartment that adjoined the South Plainfield home and was there just before the fire began.
1010 WINS’ Al Jones reports
Robert Taylor lost his 2-year-old Elijah in the fire that ripped through a 150-year-old farmhouse in the early morning hours Thursday. The children’s mother, Natalie Jefferson, was able to get out, but her mother and four of her seven children could not.
“I don’t know where the blames lies. I just know we lost five really good people,” Taylor told CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis.
Fire officials don’t yet know the cause but they believe it started in the downstairs kitchen, then quickly spread to the top, trapping the family inside. They called it “the worst fatality fire in South Plainfield history.”
“We’re in the kitchen area, under investigation, still try to pinpoint where it started,” Scalera told CBS 2’s John Slattery.
Investigators say there is no evidence of working smoke detectors inside the home.
“There appears to be no functioning smoke detectors or alarms in 1407 Clinton Avenue. Were there, but not functioning,” said South Plainfield Fire Chief Tom Scalera.
CBS 2 spoke with the landlord, Gerald Avelos, who says there was an inspection in October and that all the detectors were operable then.
“So I don’t know whether they were removed, they probably did, I can’t tell you that,” he said.
Neighbor Isabel Scavino said she and her children watched in horror as Natalie Jefferson, who lived inside the home with her mother and seven children, escaped the fire with her infant daughter, Angel.
“Little kid in her arms, she just came out running, screaming ‘Help, help’ and the other two kids after her,” described Scavino. “They were saying ‘Help, help! We need help, our brothers and sisters are in there.'”
Jefferson along with three of her children, 14-year-old Jaquan, 8-year-old Jordan and 1-year-old Angel, survived the fire. Killed where 2-year-old Elijah, 3-year-old Christopher, 12-year-old Alize, 7-year-old Tyler and Jefferson’s mother, 62-year-old Ann Jefferson.
Gregory Davis, the father of 7-year-old Tyler, is devastated and demanding answers.
“All I know is I love my son and he shouldn’t have died the way he did,” Davis said. “I want it totally investigated and I want to find out how the fire started.”
Jefferson and her 14-year-old son tried desperately to save the other children.
“The boy tried to go into the house to try to help his brothers and sister and grandmother,” said Scavino.
But it was too late. The flames quickly spread and destroyed the historic farmhouse, leaving questions as to how it may have started.
“She was so good, I can’t explain it to you,” said Vera Harrell, a family friend.
Autopsies are being performed on the five victims to determine exact causes of death.
Donations are being collected at the South Plainfield senior’s center, clothing in all sizes for the surviving children and their mother.
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