4 Dead, Dozens Displaced After Large Fire Rips Through Homes

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Steven Fulop said a possible street mix-up may have delayed the response to a massive Jersey City fire that left four members of the same family dead and dozens of other residents displaced.

Fulop said there was some confusion with dispatchers as to the exact location of the blaze, which broke out at 28 1/2 Grant Avenue just after 1 a.m. Thursday.

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“The initial call indicated what sounded like ‘Grand’ with a ‘D,’ and there was no indicator of street or avenue which made it difficult for the dispatcher who initially directed towards ‘Grand’ with a ‘D’ instead of ‘Grant’ with a ‘T,’ and it could have potentially resulted in a delay,” Fulop told 1010 WINS.

Fulop told WCBS 880 the city is already considering changing the name of one of the streets.

Some neighbors said it took 20 to 25 minutes before firefighters arrived. Fulop said the response time was seven to eight minutes — about double the usual time.

Neighbor Van Pittman told 1010 WINS’ Al Jones the way the flames spread, the fire department’s arrival time wouldn’t have made a difference.

“From the way it picked up and took off, I really didn’t think it make much of a difference of stopping it,” Pittman said. “And with the wind, it was gonna go no matter what. It wouldn’t have made a difference.”

Fulop told CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes he can’t speculate if that extra time would have saved lives considering the first floor was already engulfed when the 911 calls came in.

By the time firefighters arrived, two homes were already heavily engulfed in flames. The fire then spread to more houses.

“When they’re attached like that with common walls, once a fire gets headway, it extends rapidly,” Jersey City Fire Chief Darren Rivers said. “It’s very difficult for firefighters to contain.”

Fulop said officials will be looking into what caused the possible street miscommunication.

“We have to look into what we can do to improve that among our dispatchers going forward and make sure their communication is seamless,” he said.

Authorities haven’t identified the victims, but neighbors told CBS 2 they were 82-year-old William Pickett, a pastor; his 81-year-old wife, Eula Mae Pickett; and their two sons, ages 56 and 59.

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All four were inside the home where the fire started. Three bodies were found on the first floor, and one was on the second, fire officials said.

“You hear people screaming and burning at the same time,” witness Van Pittman said. “Nobody should hear that.”

“We saw them last night, had church last night,” William and Eula Mae’s son, Nathan Pickett, told CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang. “Just hurt right now. Hurt and feel real bad. My stomach’s turning.”

“He was a good father to his children, grandchildren, great grands,” the couple’s daughter, Michelle Meggett, told CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco. “He was good to the community. My mother was the mother of the church. She was good to everybody.”

It took firefighters several hours to get the fire under control. Crews were faced with not only the flames, but also freezing conditions. At one point, a police officer was seen carrying a baby to a squad car to keep warm.

“It’s horrible,” neighbor Diane Robinson said. “It looks like a war zone. It’s bad, really bad.”

Lynnis Golden, a relative of the Pickett family, tried to rescue the victims.

“I tried to get in, but by the time I got to the door, there was a bunch of smoke and fire burst through the door,” Golden said.

The couple’s home also served as a house of worship.

“It’s a church in their home, all in one,” neighbor Nathan Cody said. “They’ve lived there over 27 years.”

“He was not just my father-in-law, he was my bishop,” Lavette Pickett, the victims’ daughter-in-law, said of William Pickett. “A loving, caring family man. They will be missed.”

“Very, very good people. Excellent,” said Fami Badawi, a family friend. “We have known them for 22 years. It’s a very sad situation. I’m so upset.”

PSE&G crews responded to turn off a gas line. Power was also turned off on the entire block as a safety precaution.

The United Way of Hudson County and The Red Cross are working to help relocate the nearly 40 residents who have been displaced.

The cause of the fire was not known Thursday evening.

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