NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Six people — including two children — were killed in house fire early Sunday morning in Newark, Essex County officials said.
The fire started around 4 a.m. at 818 South 15th St. The single-family, three-story house was already fully engulfed when firefighters arrived, officials said.
As CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, the fire completely gutted the home, and the family inside was unable to escape. Six people — two of them children — were killed.
The fast-moving fire was caught on cellphone video. Huge flames took over the home, as well as a house next door.
Panicked neighbors were screaming for help.
“We knew people were in there. It was a woman in the back screaming for help,” said neighbor Erica Simmons. “And it was nothing no one could do about it.”
As CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, witnesses also said they called 911, but telephone operators took several minutes to answer their calls.
“It was already in flames, for a long time,” said neighbor Iminah May. “But by the time they got here it was just — and then when they got here, they didn’t respond, like, trying to put the fire out fast enough. So it didn’t end well.”
Meanwhile, one neighbor tried to enter the home through the front door, but the flames were too intense, witnesses told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith.
It was not clear how many people were inside the home sleeping at the time.
“It’s an immense tragedy for the families involved here, and the residents of this neighborhood,” said Essex County Assistant Chief Prosecutor Thomas Fennelly.
But ultimately, six members of one family died in the fire, officials said.
“Sad – they were real good people,” a neighbor said. “For that to happen on Father’s Day, that’s a tragedy.”
The fire also spread to the house next door, CBS 2’s Scott Rapoport reported. Everyone who lived there made it out safely. Both homes were destroyed.
“It’s crazy,” one neighbor told Smith. “They had fire just coming from the front of the house. The house blew up. The flames was uncontrollable.”
A woman arrived on the scene so distraught that she collapsed to the ground, her screams echoing through the neighborhood, Smith reported. Her connection to those who lived inside the home was not clear.
The victims who died were identified as Salome Stewart; her husband, Reginald Stewart, 58; and her sister, Natasha Kinsale, 47 – all of whom lived in the house; along with visiting family members Zion Forbes, 11, of East Orange, New Jersey; Noreen “Michelle” Johnson, 43; and her son, Stephon Sydney, 15, police said. Johnson and Sydney were from Crawford, Georgia.
Stephon Sydney and his mother were visiting Newark this Father’s Day to honor Stephon’s own father, who died in a bike accident two years ago. The teen’s devastated grandmother came to the scene in shock.
“I am telling you, I buried my husband, now I bury my son, and now this is my grandchild,” she said. “I feel it. I feel it in my heart, but I am not the person, I mean, I could not believe it. This is a sad day for the Sydneys family – it is.”
Stephon Sydney’s aunt, Cheryl Sydney, was likewise shocked.
“You know, I had to see it for myself. This is not something you get told. You just got to see it,” she said. “I mean I can’t believe this, they didn’t deserve this.”
Residents on the street and the family’s pastor were remembering the victims as a nice family.
“They’re very good people,” said James Johnson, the family’s pastor. “They’re from Saint Vincent, I believe, from the islands, but they’ve been here for many years. And they’re a part of my ministry. So I’m very shaken at this moment. And I’m still not clear as to what all has taken place.”
“The lady was very nice,” added neighbor Stacy Kowlessar. “She always, like, came around and gave us books and pencils for school, supplies.”
“They was real sweet,” neighbor Brion Cameron told 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria. “The old lady, she had a nice heart. She was a calm person. If anything ever went wrong, and you needed her help, she was there.”
On Sunday night, friends and neighbors came together to pray for the victims.
“This is tragedy what happened today — six people lose their lives in such a horrendous fire and it’s actually Father’s Day, and many people are celebrating fathers all over in the city,” said community activist the Rev. Thomas Ellis. “But for the city of Newark today, this is a sad and tragic day.”
Eighty-five firefighters battled the blaze for about two hours, 1010 WINS reported. Firefighters battled the blaze from inside, but were overwhelmed by the flames and had to retreat outside.
As investigators sifted through the charred rubble of this home, it was unclear how the fire started.
“We don’t know exactly where it started at this point,” Newark Deputy Fire Chief Richard Gail said. “There was a lot of fire, so that’s going to take a little bit of working out to find the actual point of origin.”
But neighbors thought they heard what sounded like an explosion just before the fire.
“I did hear last night, I head a boom,” Kowlessar said. “I didn’t come outside, though. I stayed in my bed. I thought, I was like, it was firecrackers or something.”
Fennelly said the fire doesn’t appear to be suspicious, but the cause remains under investigation.
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