BAYONNE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – A couple was killed in an early-morning fire today in Bayonne, New Jersey.
Flames broke out shortly before 2 a.m. at a complex on Islandview Court near West 1st Street. The fire chief said more than 50 units had to be evacuated.
The Hudson County Regional Arson Task Force and Bayonne Fire Department are investigating a fire at 3 Island View Court in which an elderly couple has died. More information to follow.
— ProsecutorSuarezHCPO (@HCPOProsecutor) January 3, 2020
“Police were banging on doors, trying to get people out, ‘You have to leave the building,’ it was smoky,” said resident Bobby Epps. “First thing I did was try to grab my mother, get her in, get her out as quick as possible.”
“You could even see the ladder from the firetruck just moving side to side. I guess he was trying to avoid it from when it was bursting,” resident Todd Grimard said.
Firefighters struggled to put out the initial fire on the third floor. Crews spent hours battling hot spots.
“Essentially, it’s a two-roof building where the older flat roof was covered with a new peak roof, which is called a rain roof. It limits our access to put the fire out,” fire chief Keith Weaver said.
Firefighters pulled 65-year-old John Macchio out and found his wife, 75-year-old Balbina Macchio, in the bedroom of an apartment where the fire broke out. Both victims were rushed to Bayonne Medical Center but did not make it.
Harry Garelick lives in a neighboring building and knew the couple.
“She was the nicest person in Bayonne. She would do anything for anybody,” he said. “The husband had health problems. He recently fell off a ladder few years ago, then had to get brain surgery and he had trouble walking, then had a stroke.”
The Red Cross and the city’s emergency management office were helping residents who had been displaced.
“(There are) 18 units uninhabitable at this time,” said Matthew Teter of the American Red Cross. “We are serving 17 families, 24 adults, 8 children total of 32 people assisted with lodging, food and emotional support.”
Junior Ferrante, the coordinator of the Bayonne Office of Emergency Management, said they are on-site and working on gathering critical items “such as medicine, cell phones, keys, things of that sort, then we’ll have to work it out with the housing authority.”
Residents of 36 units out of 54 have been allowed back in.
Officials say there is significant water and smoke damage in the building where the fire started, so it’s unclear when the remaining tenants can return home.
All 17 displaced families received emergency funds by the American Red Cross for immediate needs but not all required housing.
The Hudson County prosecutor’s office said a preliminary investigation by fire officials found the origin of the fire to be in the kitchen of the deceased couple’s apartment unit, but a more precise cause of the fire remains under investigation.