Arrest in deadly New Jersey fire

November 23, 2009 2:33:51 PM PST
Ralph Fernicola lost his wife in Sunday's fire. "They were holding me back, but I wanted to get my wife, and they said we'll get her." Ralph Fernicola said.

89-year-old Fernicola was surrounded by family and neighbors when he came back to his home, just one day after the Sunday arson there, that killed his wheelchair bound, beloved wife, Ida. She'd been the first to smell the smoke.

Ralph explained, "She told my son, tell your dad I smell smoke."

Ralph had never heard of 36-year-old John Keenan, before police arrested him as the suspected arsonist of the fire that killed his wife, and several other small fires that night.

Police believe Keenan set at least 4 fires on Paterson Avenue, one right after the other, starting in front of house number 114.

114 suffered fire damage on the stoop.

Then up the street, there was even more damage at 140, and then 142, where some cardboard was ignited.

Police say by the time the arsonist got to 156, he wasn't setting fires on the sidewalk anymore. Investigators say walked to the back of the house, broke in, and set a recliner on fire.

"There was a small fire in the seat, I tried to push it out the door, but it was too big," explained Ralph.

The fire had already spread, and firefighters, originally called to douse the smaller fires, ran to the home..

Neighbor Harow Henry recalled the scene saying, "They were fighting several fires, and it just stretched the manpower."

They got Ralph and his handicapped son out of the burning home, but it was too late for Ida.

"They asked me if I wanted to see my wife, but she was already dead," sadly recalled Ralph.

Neighbors who knew the couple continue to wonder, who would want to hurt such a nice couple.