Sunday, January 28, 2007

Basement Apartment - Courier - Johnston Avenue Fire

Published in the Courier News, Monday, January 8, 2007

House fire leaves 13 homeless in Plainfield

Staff Writer

PLAINFIELD -- More than a dozen people were left homeless Sunday afternoon from one of two fires in the city, officials said.

No injuries were reported from either blaze, both of which appear to have started in basements, fire officials said.

Ten adults and three children were displaced by the first fire, a two-alarm blaze in the basement of a four-apartment house at 129 Johnston Ave., officials said.

The blaze caused heavy fire damage and flooded both the upstairs and downstairs apartments with smoke, Plainfield Fire Battalion Chief Broderick Fleming said. The smoke damage in the other half of the building, housing the upstairs and basement apartments, wasn't as severe, he said.

Plainfield and North Plainfield firefighters were called to the scene at 1:14 p.m.

All four apartments are considered uninhabitable until further notice, Fleming said.

Red Cross representative Victor Webb Jr. was at the scene to offer shelter and aid to the building's residents.

The fire's cause is under investigation, Fleming said.

"Some individuals took some smoke, and we administered some oxygen, but nobody went to the hospital, as far as we can tell," Fleming said.

Talia Harris, who lives in apartment 127 upstairs, said she left through the building's front door with her mother, Mary Harris; her sister, Monique Harris; and two children, her 17-month-old son, Tylir Clary, and her 10-year-old daughter, Tamira Harris.

Mary Harris recalled the smoke: "We just saw smoke everywhere, and somebody was yelling, 'Get out, get out."

Shona Douglas, who lives in apartment 129 upstairs, left through the back door with her 9-month-old son, Jahmaad Bradley.

Leon Armstrong said he came back from the store to find his neighbors and fire officials on the street, in front of his apartment on the first floor of 129.

When the fire started, Sarah Jones was asleep in her apartment on the first floor of apartment 127, and her grandson Abdus Jones, 16, was in the bathroom, said her daughter, Yolanda Jones, who lives elsewhere but came to the scene to see to her family.

Everyone made it out of the building safely, the residents said.

The second fire later Sunday afternoon occurred in the basement of a single-family house at 355 Emerson Ave. and caused minor smoke damage to the basement, Fleming said.

That fire appears to have started at about 3:44 p.m. in an electric dryer, and was contained in the laundry room area within 20 minutes, Fleming said.

No injuries were reported, but the family lost their dryer and several basement windows, which were broken so firefighters could ventilate the area and control smoke damage, Fleming said.

Power to the basement was turned off, but the family was allowed to go back inside soon after the fire was extinguished, Fleming said.

Celanie Polanick can be reached at (908) 707-3137 or at

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.