By John Burton
Photos by Scott Longfield
LITTLE SILVER — Carriage House Way is a narrow little street off of Silverside Avenue that the casual passerby might not even notice.
But last Saturday, the street filled with emergency vehicles as a raging fire claimed a 120 year old house, the home of a family of six and two cats.
Police and fire officials received a call about the fire at approximately 1:16 p.m. last Saturday Police Chief Daniel Shaffrey said.
“When the first patrol arrived on the scene, it was going pretty good,” Shaffrey said on Monday. “It had already breached the house. It was external.”
By that point, “It was a wall of flames,”he said.
The home belonged to Joseph and Donna Loftus, who lived there with their four children, two of whom are college age and away at school.
Firefighters from the local department were joined by members of the Long Branch, Oceanport, Fair Haven, Neptune, Wayside, West Long Branch departments, many of which were contacted because they had sufficiently tall aerial ladder trucks to reach the house’s upper floors, if needed, as they fought the blaze, according to Shaffrey.
Also on hand, the chief said, were representatives of the Red Cross, the Monmouth County Fire Marshal; and Red Bank’s fire department which provided on-call assistance while the local department was occupied.
According to the initial investigation, it appears that the fire started in the kitchen, located in the northeast front corner of the house, when lit candles ignited window curtains in the kitchen, which accelerated pretty quickly, Shaffrey said.
Donna Loftus was home with two housekeepers at the time and they were making preparations for a party that evening, the chief said. One of the Loftus’s sons ran outside to all 911.
The fire destroyed the home, Shaffrey said. “It was a total loss.”
The age of the home and its style of construction contributed to the rapid spread of the fire and the extensive damage it caused, officials said.
The home was a Queen Ann-style Victorian. said Carolynn Ozar-Diakon, a family friend who sold the family the home.
Houses of that age relied on what Shaffrey called balloon frame construction which did not incorporate fire breaks to slow the spread of a fire.
“Which would explain the rapid acceleration,” he said.
Those in the house were able to escape unharmed, though the two family cats have not been found, Shaffrey said.
One firefighter received burns for which he was treated and released, the chief said.
On Monday fire department members and a demolition company were on site to go through the building extinguishing any remaining “hot spots,” Shaffrey said.
“It looked like as nasty a house fire as you could get,” said Mayor Robert Neff Jr., who knows the family through their children and school activities. Neff arrived as the fire was being brought under control, standing on the front lawn with Joseph Loftus, as Loftus thanked the fire members and police for their hard work. “He was grateful,” Neff said, “and couldn’t have said nicer things about everyone.”
“Now the work starts as they try to get back on their feet,” after losing all of their personal effects, Neff noted.
To that end, Ozar-Diakon and the local PTO have commenced a campaign to assist the family, collecting gift cards.
“Obviously, they are not without means, they have insurance,” Ozar-Diakon said, but noting, “when your house burns down, everything you own is inside of it,” such as ID’s, credit cards, check books, clothing. “I thought gift cards would be a really good stopgap for them,” she said.
Ozar-Diakon also thought people may like to help the Loftuses with Christmas decorations. “Because they’re going to be in a rental somewhere,” she said. “Not a very nice thing to happen right before Christmas.”
The family is currently staying with friends, Ozar-Diakon said. And they hope to find something permanent in Little Silver, according to Neff.
“I think they’re a little a little bit in shock,” she said, “but they realize they have to get on with what’s in front of them now.”
Anyone wishing to donate decorations or gift cards can contact Ozar-Diakon at her office, 112 East River Road, Rumson.