Camden Fire Department
The Fires of June & July, 2011
June 14, 2011 - 107 North 34th Street

After budget cuts brought on in great part by poor leadership at the state level from both political parties under Governors Whitman, McGreevey, Codey, and Corzine the City of Camden laid of a large number of its professional fire department at the end of 2010. Former Chief David A. Yates had offered three plans on how to cope with the situation, all were rejected by parties at Camden's City Hall, and a plan for the Fire Department, which to date I have not been able to find out who authored, was handed back to the Chief. Chief Yates subsequently chose to retire, and Chief Michael Harper was appointed as his replacement. Chief Harper inherited a no-win situation, and the losses began almost immediately. With Fire companies closed in different parts of the city, response times to fire calls increased, homes that could have been saved were destroyed, and civilians injured. 

On June 6, 2011 a vacant two-story twin at 821-823 of Chestnut Street was destroyed by fire. Three days later, on June 9, fire broke out in the abandoned warehouse on Chestnut Street that formerly housed the Reliable Tire Company. When the few available local units arrived on the scene, hydrants were found to have been vandalized, delaying efforts to extinguish the blaze, which soon went to 12 alarms. Units were called in from surrounding communities, obviously taking a great deal of time to arrive on scene. In the mean time, high winds caused the fire to spread to adjacent buildings that formerly were occupied by the Camden Pottery Company, and homes on Orchard, Louis, and Mount Vernon Streets. Ten occupied homes were completely destroyed, as were all the industrial buildings, and thirteen other homes on Chestnut Street were badly damaged by smoke and water. Conditions and results of this blaze mimicked in almost every way the Poet's Row fire of August, 1972 where a vacant leather factory once occupied by the John R. Evans & Company caught fire and two and one-half full city blocks of homes on Byron, Burns, and Milton Streets were completely and utterly destroyed.... a deadly combination of an old and abandoned industrial building, short-staffed fire department, low water pressure and high winds being among the contributing factors.

In the early morning hours of June 11, 2011 another abandoned industrial building was reported to be on fire. The former Howland Croft, Sons & Company mill on Broadway between Winslow and Jefferson Streets was devastated by a blaze that went to eight alarms.  One house at the corner of South 4th and Winslow and three homes on Winslow Street were damaged by smoke and water, but fortunately, none were destroyed.

Rumors of arson were flying through the city when, on Tuesday, June 14 a vacant twin at 107 North 34th Street was gutted, with the adjacent home taking a great deal of smoke and water damage.

As with the web page covering other Camden Fire Department events, if you can identify anyone that I've missed, please e-mail me. (I'm terrible at at names and faces).

Phil Cohen
July 3, 2011


Camden Courier-Post * June 15, 2011
After two massive warehouse fires in less than a week,
Camden investigates two more blazes

By George Mast

CAMDEN  City officials are investigating a suspicious fire that broke out at a furniture store late Monday night and a separate blaze Tuesday at an abandoned rowhome.

A fire at Thrift Zone Furniture on Marlton Pike was reported around 11 p.m. Monday. A kitchen dining set was found on fire inside a small warehouse at the furniture store, and a dresser elsewhere in the building had been scorched by an apparent overnight burglar.

A two-alarm fire also broke out around noon Tuesday in a vacant home at 34th Street and Rosedale Avenue. The home was gutted.

Two women at the scene repeatedly spoke with rescuers, fearful two of their friends were living in the vacant home at the time, but no injuries were reported.

Both fires remain under investigation and Camden Fire Marshal Braulio Villegas declined to comment Tuesday as to whether the recent string of fires in the city could be related.

"Everything right now is being looked at," Villegas said. "Every stone is being turned."

A 12-alarm inferno at an abandoned warehouse in the city's Gateway section Thursday spread over several blocks and consumed about a dozen homes. Early Saturday, an eight-alarm fire destroyed an empty warehouse along Broadway at Winslow Street in the city's Waterfront South neighborhood.

Javier Riveria, owner of the furniture store, said about $100 was also stolen from the store's cash register Monday.

Riveria said a burglar apparently peeled back shingles and plywood on the warehouse roof and dropped down into the building. The store's smoke detectors alerted a security company of the fire.

When he arrived at the store, Riveria saw smoke coming from the warehouse and a kitchen set in the middle of the warehouse burning.

"If we didn't have the smoke detectors this place would have been crispy," Riveria said.

At Tuesday night's Camden City Council meeting, President Frank Moran said the timing of the fires at the two industrial buildings last week didn't sit right with him.

"This is something that is not coincidental," Moran said. "I'm sorry.

"We're requesting that there be a detailed investigation because of all the fires that have taken place," Moran added after the meeting.

"I'm not pointing any fingers, but I'm hoping we get a good investigation to see what the cause of the fires was."

In the meantime, cleanup continues from each of the fires.

City Attorney Mark Riondino said Camden has sent letters to the current owners of the burned buildings in Gateway and Waterfront South to determine who is legally responsible for the properties.

Pictures by Joel D. Bain

Pictures by Joel D. Bain
Click on Images to Enlarge

Camden Courier-Post * June 15, 2011



107 North 34th Street

June 14, 2011 - 1254 hours

There are reports from police and neighbors about possible squatters in structure, Firefighters are breaching a wall from an exposure to make safe entry to fire building.

A Rich Johnston photograph
Courtesy Gabe Angemi -CMDFD BLOG

107 North 34th Street

June 14, 2011 - 1254 hours

107 North 34th (left) was heavily damaged by fire on June 14, 2011. Car 1 reported a three story twin dwelling fully involved. 2nd alarm struck and all companies in service with heaviest water lines. Reported people inside. Fire extended to the exposure dwelling, two ladder pipes in service. Crews in service with hand lines in the exposure. 

107 North 34th Street

June 14, 2011 - 1254 hours

A three story wood frame twin, when Engine 9 arrived, there was fire on all floors. Things were finished up around 2:45 PM

From Danny Stratton

107 North 34th Street

June 15, 2011

Click on Image to Enlarge

107 North 34th Street

June 15, 2011

Click on Image to Enlarge

107 North 34th Street

June 15, 2011

Click on Image to Enlarge

109 North 34th Street

In 1900 William E. Hibbert, who later served as a member of the Camden Fire Department, lived here.

June 15, 2011

Click on Image to Enlarge


Camden Courier-Post * June 16, 2011

Redd: Hydrant Security to Rise
By Lucas K. Murray

A brass fitting whose value wouldn't amount to lunch for a family of four may have helped save homes that burned in a 12-alarm inferno a week ago today.

Now Camden officials are vowing more oversight when it comes to the city's 3,000 fire hydrants -- some of which were vandalized for those fittings, worth about $11 each.

"We want to make sure that we're going around, continuing to inspect the hydrants to make sure they're operable and in good condition," Mayor Dana Redd said Wednesday as an investigation continued into last Thursday's fire and another suspicious blaze on Saturday.

Nearly 60 fire companies from across South Jersey converged on Camden's Gateway section to battle the first fire inside an abandoned warehouse. Even with temperatures in the high 90s that day, wind-fed flames hampered firefighting efforts, sending cinders onto the roofs of nearby homes.

Half a block away, a row of homes -- some occupied, some abandoned -- burned to the ground as firefighters were met with hydrants on Louis Street that had been stripped of vital components. Three hydrants were missing brass threads from the steamer portion of the devices where fire hoses are attached.

Hydrants on Louis Street were outfitted with new parts following the fire. Officials from United Water -- the company that maintains about half of the hydrants -- said the 1,700 units for which they are responsible had a complete inspection that concluded May 16. The rest are maintained by New Jersey American Water.

Redd said the city's attorney has been in contact with both companies to get more consistent reports on hydrant conditions.

"I'm told that the hydrants there at the 12-alarm fire had just been replaced or inspected as of the middle of May," Redd said.

"We've been having vandalism problems. In light of that problem, we're trying to be more strategic and aggressive to ensure the hydrants aren't being vandalized."

Police Chief J. Scott Thomson said this week officers would be on the lookout for people tampering with hydrants.

"It's something we're vigilant about."

The epidemic of theft from hydrants was serious enough for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to issue a notice to public agencies in 2008. The two-page brief advised officials to visit scrap yards, leave copies of equipment descriptions and ask proprietors to report people trying to sell them.

City officials say they are now targeting scrap yards as well as thieves.

"We're looking at language on how we can strengthen that ordinance so we can really go after the perpetrators, but more importantly the scrap yards that have been accepting the metals," Redd said.

Tom Fanelle of R. Fanelle's Sons Scrap Iron and Metal Yard in Camden said he hasn't yet seen any of the yellow brass fittings come through his business, although two men at his yard were arrested recently for allegedly paying undercover investigators for copper wire "clearly labeled as PSE&G property," according to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

"Eventually they're going to hit a yard that will buy it," Fanelle predicted. "There's a lot of unscrupulous dealers in the city that have a reputation of buying the hot stuff."

By city statute, there are restrictions on the types of materials junkyards and recyclers can accept.

Fanelle's Ferry Avenue yard doesn't accept walk-ups and requires those looking to sell scrap to have a valid driver's license. Fanelle said his workers often will put aside suspicious items and police from the city and surrounding towns are there "at least once a week."

"We have recovered a lot of things and we've aided in the arrest of several individuals," Fanelle said of other cases involving stolen property.

The Fanelle family has had a scrap yard in Camden since 1914. It is less than a mile away from the scene of Saturday's early morning fire at the Howland Croft, Sons & Co. building on Broadway.

Fanelle said he saw familiar faces pulling scrap metal from that site weeks earlier. But the hydrants surrounding the former textile factory were intact.

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