Cigarette-ignited blaze damages Princeton house

24 July, 1992

Cigarette-ignited blaze damages Princeton house

By Adam Miller
Staff Writer

A house fire at 341 Witherspoon St. on Thursday morning was caused by a tenant with a lit cigarette who fell asleep on a sofa and ignited the blaze, Princeton Township police said.

No one was injured in the fire, but it did heavy damage to the first floor of the two-story structure, located across the street from the Community Park School, police said.

Three small boys and one elderly woman who escaped the blaze stood wrapped in blankets on the front lawn of the house as fire trucks arrived. All four were only partially clothed.

In the rain, they huddled together on the property’s small front lawn as as thick smoke billowed from the windows of the house. Neither the children nor the woman had a command of English and all four stood mutely until firemen ushered them far enough from the house to avoid the whooshing water and breaking glass that soon came from the white-shingled structure.

As firefighters fought the blaze, a man darted across the lawn to one of the small boys and embraced him. Asdollah Maghaneki, the tenant in the second-story apartment and the father of one of the boys, had raced home from his job on Nassau Street after learning of the fire.

“I hope they can stop the fire,” said Mr. Maghaneki, who came from Iran nearly a decade ago but whose son had only recently arrived after a five-year battle with Iranian immigration. “I don’t have much, but I’d hate to lose what six or seven years of hard work can give.”

After his son, Abdullah, 11, told him what had happened, Mr. Maghaneki, who works at Nejad Gallery as an oriental rug salesman, recounted the boy’s story.

Abdul was watching television ,When he heard some explosions, Mr. Maghaneki said. At first he thought it was just people slamming the doors in the apartment downstairs because there is so little insulation in the ceiling, he said, but then Abdul heard knocking on the door. It was the two boys from downstairs warning him of the fire, Mr. Maghaneki said.

The woman whose cigarette police say caused the fire, Maria Perez DeMartinez, 65, is the tenant in the first floor of the building, said police. The two boys, one of them her nephew, were just visiting, according to police.

The fire broke out at approximately 10 a.m., with police and fire departments being dispatched shortly after, police said. The fire department, which sent five trucks to the scene, returned to the station at 11:20 a.m., police said.

The second-floor apartment suffered mostly heat and smoke damage, police said.

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