Chief: Smoke detectors not working in deadly NJ fire

February 24, 2012 2:12:22 PM PST
South Plainfield's fire chief says there appears to be no functioning smoke detectors in the section of the house on fire where 5 people died in a Thursday morning fire.

Four of the victims were children.

The fire broke out inside 1407 Clinton Avenue in South Plainfield around 3 a.m. Thursday.

Additionally, there were smoke detectors found on the first floor but they did not appear to be working. Firefighters heard no alarms when they were fighting the fire. "They were not going off on our arrival," the Fire Chief adds. One alarm was chirping in the basement, but the battery seemed to be dead.

Officials believe the fire started in the kitchen area of the home.

A neighbor with a cell phone captured the horrifying moments as the raging fire tore through the 150-year-old two-family farmhouse.

"We tried to push as hard as we could to the second floor...But we had to back out," said volunteer firefighter Andrew Kolinski.

Witnesses say they'll never forget the screams of the trapped victims, 62-year-old grandmother Ann Jefferson and four of her grandchildren - 2-year-old Elijah, 3-year-old Christopher, 7-year-old Tyler Davis and 12-year-old Alizae.

"Some of them were running upstairs and probably got trapped because the flames started dropping through the floor upstairs," fire survivor Dietra Jackson said. "You could see the flames just coming down and coming down."

The children's mother, Natalie Jefferson, and three other children survived. Eight-year-old Jordan, who caught on fire, is hospitalized in critical condition at St. Barnabas Medical Center in New Brunswick. Fifteen-year-old Shaquan and infant Angel were hospitalized.

Natalie Jefferson made a last desperate attempt to save her son.

"And she turned back to go get him, and she didn't see him anymore," Jackson said. "He was gone."

Greg Davis, father of 7-year-old Tyler Davis, came to the scene and was unable to find words to describe his unthinkable heartbreak.

"I don't know what to think," he said. "I don't know."

South Plainfield Fire Chief Thomas Scalera says the fire was the community's deadliest fire on record. The investigation into the cause is continuing.



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