House fire now seen as arson

24 April, 1991 (~estimated)

House fire now seen as arson

Flammable liquid found in basement

By John P. McAlpin
Staff Writer

The spectacular blaze that took minutes to destroy a half-million dollar home on Route 206 in Princeton Township Monday afternoon was deliberately set, authorities said Thursday.

Investigators found a number of telltale signs of arson inside the residence of Nicholis Hayer, investigators said.

Preliminary findings showed several spots in the basement where a flammable liquid was poured and then possibly set on fire, said Ted Cashell, Princeton Township fire marshal.

“There are several points where there appears to be a flammable or combustible liquid poured,” Mr. Cashell said.

“The fire was deliberately set,” Mercer County Prosecutor Paul T. Koenig said Thursday. “It’s more than a suspicious fire at this point.”

Detectives picked and prodded through the charred remains of the house ‘earlier ‘this week. A backhoe cleared some of the rubble, revealing twisted hulks of beams, furniture and appliances.

All that remained standing of the house built by Mr. ll-layer were two walls and the concrete foundation for the basement.

For arson investigators, that was enough.

County specialists in arson investigations are joining township police and fire officials in the case.

“We are investigating it. Arson is a criminal matter and we are investigating it in that vein,” Mr. Koenig said.

Neighbors and a passer-by first reported the fire at 12:46 p.m., according to Mr. Cashell.

Minutes later, flames were shooting out of the roof of the three-story, natural wood home, he said.

“The fire was fast, very fast.” Mr. Cashell said. “it was abnormally fast for that type of house.”

The house was built between 1988 and 1990, according to permits issued by the Princeton Township building department, code officials said.

During that time, repeated inspections showed no serious flaws in the construction. Building Inspector Betty Jablonsky said.

“Nothing goes out of here that isn’t properly inspected and completed,” she said. “There was nothing left in that house after those inspections that could have caused that fire.”

Mr. Hayer declined to discuss the fire.

“I’m very upset about it all. I just don’t want to talk about it,” said Mr. Hayer, a self-employed insurance executive.

No one was home when the fire ripped through it, destroying 75 percent of the house.

A neighbor called the school where one of the three Hayer children attended and asked that the boy not be sent home on the school bus.

“They both worked so it wasn’t unusual for someone not to be there,” said Lionel Silvester, the closest neighbor to the Hayers in the township’s wooded northern section.

Mr. Hayer and his family had only recently moved into the spacious dwelling, Mr. Silvester said.

“He spent years building that house,” he added.

The township tax assessor valued the house at nearly half a million dollars.

The land was assessed at $33,000 and the building itself was assessed at $202,700, said Township Tax Assessor Carol A. Caskey.

Samples have been sent out for laboratory testing to determine exactly what was used to start the fire, Mr. Cashell said.

“We are continuing the investigation.” Mr. Koenig added.

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