Residents, officers hospitalized in high rise blaze

COLLINGSWOOD, N.J. - October 12, 2008 Around 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning, about 100 residents who live in building "C" at the Heights of Collingswood high rise complex awoke to a nightmare.

The sounds of fire alarms or people banging on their doors urging them to evacuate after fire broke out in a fourth floor apartment.

Collingswood mayor Jim Maley says at first, the occupants tried to put it out themselves.

"The fire apparently started very small, they tried to put it out, when the police responded, they were trying to put it out and then it erupted," Mayor Maley said.

Within minutes, smoke began to fill the hallways of the 10-story high rise.

"My neighbor, Alan, woke us up, my wife and I and we have a month old daughter and the whole hallways was full of smoke, the stairways were all smoky, everyone's panicky and running down, and it was crazy," resident Jeff Colella said.

"There was a bunch of smoke in the hallway, there was so much smoke--I didn't see the cop until he was two doors away," resident Larry Di'Vetro said.

There was a frantic effort to evacuate residents as the fire went to two alarms.

"They knocked on the door and they asked me to come down and I said. "I can't, I'm in a wheel chair!" resident Tommy Smith said.

Five residents and five police officers who were helping to evacuate the building had to be hospitalized and treated for smoke inhalation. Firefighters did manage to contain the blaze to the one apartment unit.

"Right now, people are back in their apartments except for those immediately where the fire was and we're addressing their relocation," Mayor Maley said.

An ongoing investigation by the Camden County Fire Marshal's office has determined the fire to have been caused by accident. They are looking at faulty wiring as the potential cause.

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