6 November, 1984 (date estimated)
Boro Garage Fire Is Costly To Princeton
By PAUL MICKLE, Staff Writer
PRINCETON — Local officials started estimating the financial loss yesterday as arson investigators worked on determining the cause of the early morning fire that gutted the borough garage on Harrison Street.
Borough Administrator Mark Gordon declined to give a dollar figure, but said the local government faced considerable expense replacing the garage roof and the two dump trucks also destroyed in the blaze, which was reported at 4:15 a.m.
In addition to gathering damage estimates from engineers and insurance adjusters, Gordon was scrambling yesterday to find a place for the borough streets workers to operate from. Firemen punched through six holes to ventilate the burning roof, and Gordon said the building couldn’t be used to store the equipment.
Police and fire officials, meanwhile, said the origin of the blaze had been traced to a wooden tool shed inside the rear of the building, but that what ignited it remained unknown and under investigation.
Crediting 200 firemen from Princeton and surrounding communities with “making a good stop on it,” Fire Chief Clinton Groover said the flames were blocked before they spread through the ceiling into other sections of the L-shaped borough building.
The Princeton Hook and Ladder Co., which adjoins the garage, suffered minor damage in its ceiling when the fire flared again above its quarters at 8:45 a m., police Lt. Thomas Michaud said. The fire company suffered no serious damage, though, police said.
Michaud said a borough patrolman reported the fire after stopping in the municipal parking lot behind Harrison Street to talk with a local street sweeper and both men looked up to see flames through a window.
Groover said flames were licking the garage windows and shooting through melted plastic vents on the roof when the first firemen arrived on the scene. Fueled by the laminated wood, the fire spread through the roof as firemen opened the garage and pushed out three other dump trucks, two front-end loaders, three riding mowers, two pickup trucks and a Jeep.
Although most of the borough snow-removal and landscaping equipment was saved, Groover said the firemen couldn’t get to the two other dump trucks and so wet them down continually to prevent a gasoline explosion. Replacing the scorched and partly melted trucks will cost the town $40,000 or more, Gordon said.
Groover said the fire, which apparently was fueled initially by motor oils and other solvents stored in the tool shed, burned out of control until 5:30 a.m. The chief noted that drums of motor oil and other flammable fuels were stored in another section of the building — safely behind fire walls.
“We have not labeled the fire suspicious,” said Michaud. “We don’t have any evidence it was set deliberately, but we are still trying to determine the cause.” He said Mercer County arson investigators had joined Princeton Patrolman William Hunter and Detective Charles Harris in the probe.
Volunteers from the three Lawrence Township and Princeton Junction companies joined borough firemen in battling the blaze, which attracted few local spectators despite the multiple alarms sounded, Groover said. Several municipal workers were shocked to find the cinderblock building scorched when they showed for work during the cleanup later in the morning, the chief said.
GUTTED GARAGE — Princeton fire officials (above) point out the scorched interior of the borough garage to curious municipal employees
yesterday after dousing the blaze. Firemen (below) later confer on plans for a cleanup of the building and surrounding grounds.
Trentonian Photos by Bob Harris