Electrical fixture likely cause of borough townhouse fire

December 30, 1994

Electrical fixture likely cause of borough townhouse fire

By Laurie Lynn Strasser

Staff Writer

An electrical fire Wednesday in Joseph and Anne O’Neill’s townhouse at 53 Gordon Way destroyed part of the third floor and attic.

Their 20-year-old son, Michael, who reported the fire at about 3:40 p.m., was the only person inside the 20-year-old Princeton Borough townhouse, which is sandwiched between two other units.

He had just returned from dropping off his mother at a service station to retrieve her car when he smelled smoke and “wandered around the house” looking for the source.

Unable to find it, he “figured something had burned in the kitchen” and played computer games in the basement for about 15 minutes when the exhaust fan there “kicked in,” said Mr. O’Neill.

In a second room-to-room search, he saw “orange flicker-ing” through the hole in the bathroom ceiling where his mother recently had removed the light and ventilation fan for clean-ing, he said.

Firefighters believe the fixture might have ignited the fire, said David Bogel, chief of Mercer Engine Co. No. 3.

“The entire ceiling of the bathroom had to be taken out and portions of the wall,” he said. “It was confined totally to the bathroom interior.”

The only exterior damage was a hole in the roof about one foot in diameter, he said.

Neighbors watched outside as flames shot through the hole and firefighters tossed charred insulation from the top floor window.

Six fire trucks responded to the fire, which was extinguished within about 15 minutes, said Princeton Fire Department Chief Roz Warren.

Michael O’Neill, whose father is a member of the Princeton Regional Planning Board, walked down the road, intending to head off his returning mother “before she panicked” at the sight of the burning house.

Shortly after the fire was extinguished, he said, his mother, an engineer with the Institute of Electrical Engineers in Piscataway, telephoned to ask whether he wanted to go see a movie with her, he said.

His reply: “No mom, you should probably come home.”


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