Second fire at apartment house spurs arson probe

May 7, 1993

The Princeton Packet

Second fire at apartment house spurs arson probe

By John P. McAlpin

Staff Writer

Two fires this week at the same North Tulane Street apartment house have prompted police to launch an arson investigation and Princeton Borough officials to probe possible fire and building code violations.

The three-story house — home to some university students forced by a March fire from their dorm rooms — might have been an illegal apartment building, the town’s fire official said.

Others at Borough Hall are checking reports that the building was overcrowded and that it had no smoke detectors.

Three firefighters were injured Saturday night as they tried to quell a spectacular fire that damaged most of the structure at 53 N. Tulane St.

Investigators said a careless smoker started the blaze in a rust-floor living room, when a cigarette or match was discarded near a sofa.

Crews from the Princeton Fire Department were called again to the house at 8:07 a.m. Tuesday. The fire was extinguished quickly.

But it was no accident, police and fire investigators said. “We are definitely investigating it as a suspicious fire,” police Capt. Peter Hanley said. “It appears to have been deliberately set.”

Borough detectives called in investigators from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, the captain said.

Fire Officer William Drake said someone started the Tuesday fire inside a mattress in a first-floor bedroom. That room was one of the few not damaged heavily in the weekend fire, he said.

What the arsonist used to fuel the fire is not being disclosed, Mr. Drake said.

“I can’t comment on that,” he said. “It’s a police matter.”

Eight Princeton University students lived in the house. Two of them had once lived on campus in Blair Hall, the site of a March 22 fire, Capt. Hanley said.

The cause of that fire was careless smoking — someone tossed a lit cigarette into a sofa in a common room.

Police said none of the students are suspects.

“At this point they are all victims. I have nothing to suggest to me that any of them are suspects,” Capt. Hanley said.

The house was not registered with the borough’s Rent Registration Board as an apartment house, Mr. Drake said. That violation carries a minimum fine of $100 and a maximum penalty of $1,000.

No smoke detectors were inside the house, he said. At 11:45 p.m. when the Saturday fire was reported, no one was inside.

“We’re looking at whether or not they were required to (have them) in the code,” Mr. Drake said. “We’re also investigating housing code violations of over-crowding.”

The building was listed as a single-family home in the borough, Mr. Drake said.

Tax records identify the owner as Princeton Investment Co.

On Sunday, borough Engineer Carl Peters declared the building unsafe and ordered people to keep out.

Police are investigating reports that people were in and out of the house several times, right up until the second fire was reported, Capt. Hanley said.

Leave a Reply