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Officials Continue Probe Of Fatal Point Pleasant Motel Fire

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POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Ocean County, N.J. Medical Examiner’s office was working Saturday night to identify four people who died in a fire, at a motel that housed some Superstorm Sandy victims Point Pleasant Beach.

As CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported, investigators were searching the rubble for clues this weekend, as stories of horror and heroism came to light.

Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, said the Medical Examiner’s office conducted autopsies to determine how the victims died in the blaze at the Mariner’s Cove Motor Inn in Point Pleasant Beach early Friday morning.

The probe into the cause is expected to take several days.

Meanwhile, raw emotion was on display Saturday between those whose lives were saved from the fire and those who helped save lives.

One of the inn’s residents, Jon Frystock, said he’s alive today because he had to go to the bathroom. He ended up being hailed as a hero for knocking on doors and warning others.

Frystock lost his home during the superstorm and had been staying in temporary accommodations since then. He was among 40 people staying at the motel when the fire broke out.

Frystock, who has diabetes and frequently has to use the bathroom, said he was awake at 5 a.m. Friday I Room 107 to find the motel ablaze. His son was also awake in the room.

“We had began banging on all the doors,” Frystock said.

He left with the clothes on his back, his insulin kit and nothing more. And working his way through the burning motel was a harrowing experience.

“Forget the flames – the heat – you know, the heat,” he said.

Frystock woke other residents, including fellow Sandy survivor James Giannuzzi.

“He was a true hero, him and his son — he must have saved many lives,” Giannuzzi said with a choke of emotion.

As residents ran for their lives, some could hear a woman trapped in her bathroom on the second floor, where a brave young firefighter climbed a ladder to rescue her.

“She was screaming out the little window, and this young fireman — this other hero — saved her,” Giannuzzi said.

Three others who were in the motel when the fire broke out say they did not hear any smoke alarms.

Meanwhile, the occupants of the inn were given temporary shelter in other motels in Point Pleasant Beach on Friday. The town is a popular Jersey shore summer resort where the dozen or so hotels and motels rely on people seeking cheap rentals to get them through the slow winter season.

And area residents such as Darla Hall came out to offer clothes to those who escaped.

“These people — they needed stuff. They have nothing. They’ve lost everything,” said Hall, of Brick Township. “They went through Sandy, then they lost their homes, so I gathered up stuff and brought it to them.”

Frystock, the man known as a hero, was among those who has been suffering ever since Sandy.

He said his home in Brick was flooded with 6 feet of water during Sandy that tore through his deck “like it was tissue paper.” He has lived in rental properties since the storm.

“It’s been an Odyssey ever since Oct. 29, 2012,” he said, referring to the date of the destructive storm. “Now everything is gone for a second time.”

As the victims tried to recover, an intense investigation into the cause of the blaze began Friday afternoon after the last of the four bodies was removed. Eight people were injured in the fire.

Investigators used dogs specially trained to react to the presence of gasoline or other petroleum products that might have been used to start or accelerate a fire. The dogs sniffed at charred items and building debris at the curb and alongside the motel’s outdoor swimming pool but showed no obvious reaction to anything.

Task Force One, New Jersey’s elite urban search and rescue team that has responded to disaster scenes around the world, also joined the investigation.

The blaze was the second major fire at the Jersey shore in seven months, following a September blaze that destroyed about a third of the boardwalk in Seaside Heights and Seaside Park. The boardwalk had just been rebuilt after Sandy. It is now being rebuilt — again — and many of the same arson investigators who probed the boardwalk fire are investigating the motel blaze as well.

Many of those injured in the Friday motel fire had burns and broken bones. Survivors described a chaotic scene of flames, smoke and screaming.

Peter Kuch said he smelled smoke and opened his door to find a lounge area engulfed in flames. He dialed 911, and by the time the call was completed, the flames were at his door and licking at the windows of his second-floor unit.

He decided to jump.

“I had to. There was no other way out,” he said. “My window was only open an inch, and flames were already starting to come through it. There just was no other choice.”

He sprained an ankle but said he otherwise was all right.

A woman who had sought refuge in a shower and kept the water running while waiting to be rescued was pulled from the bathroom by one firefighter, who handed her out a window to another firefighter, who carried her down a ladder to safety. The woman was taken to St. Barnabas Medical Center, which specializes in treating severe burns.

Lloyd Barker, another motel resident who safely escaped the fire, watched as firefighters rescued the woman.

“She was screaming, there was fire over her head,” he said. “She was all black, from head to toe. It was chaos.”

Denise Dougherty, the motel’s housekeeper, said she was awakened by screams.

“There were people yelling, `Help me! Help me!’ and other people yelling, `Jump! Jump!’ It was terrible.”

And still in shock and now starting over again, the survivors of the fire were not unaware of their fate.

“We lost everything,” said survivor Tyisha Thomas. “But I’m just glad that we actually made it out.”

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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