Township Resident Dies of Smoke Inhalation In House Fire on Princeton-Kingston Road

21 February, 1992 (~estimated)

Township Resident Dies of Smoke Inhalation In House Fire on Princeton-Kingston Road

Leland M. Burr III, who lived alone in his home at 524 Princeton-Kingston Road, died from smoke inhalation from a smoldering basement fire Friday morning. He was 47 years old.

Arrangements for a memorial service had not been completed as of Tuesday. His death was the first fire fatality in the Township since 1985, when a foreman was burned inside a trailer at an Edgerstoune Road construction site.

A native of Boston, Mr. Burr had earned a doctorate degree in Elizabethan literature from Princeton University. According to a friend and former neighbor, Borough Administrator Mark Gordon, who identified the body for police, reading Elizabethan literature was one of the things he loved most.

Self-employed, Mr. Burr earned his living by managing his own stock and bond investment portfolio from an office inside his home. Neighbors said he had moved to the white-colored, one-story ranch home not far from Snowden Lane about four years ago.

He was also an environmentalist and used a wood burning stove to heat his house. Neighbors report that he liked to spend his free time chopping wood. Ironically, this stove may have contributed to his death. A passing motorist observed smoke coming from the Burr home and called Township police at 6:58. When Ptl. Robert Buchanan and Ptl. Judd Petrone arrived they had to force open the door. They requested a general alarm.

Once inside, the officers encountered dark, heavy smoke throughout the house. They had crawled down a hallway some 20 feet when they found two dead cats (a third cat was also found dead). They found Mr. Burr on the floor in the kitchen with no signs of life or a pulse.

There was a heavy concentration of soot around the victim’s nose and mouth. An autopsy that afternoon revealed that he had succumbed to smoke inhalation. Mr. Burr had apparently been dead for some time, police said, because rig-or mortis had set in.

Firemen from Princeton’s three fire companies arrived and located the fire in the basement, which contained the wood stove and a small library. Police checked the stove and found it contained hot coals.

According to Township Fire Marshall Ted Cashel’, the fire in the basement had probably smoldered for hours. It is the worst kind, he said, because such a fire first produces a lot of smoke, lethal carbon dioxide and other gases.

Investigators believe that books and papers piled not far from the stove dried out from repeated exposure to the stove’s heat, and ignited at some point early in the morning. Just what mused the fire to ignite is still under investigation, said Princeton Fire Chief Joe Meyers. “It’s tightly linked to the wood burning stove,” he said, adding that “heat build up also had a lot to do with it.”

There were three smoke alarms in the house. One at the basement cellar steps was melted beyond recognition, said Chief Meyers. We found the parts on the floor.” The parts are being examined to try to determine if it was working, he said.

A second alarm was in a bedroom. That was tested after the fire and was in working order. “The third we’re not completely sure of,” Chief Meyers.

HOME OF FATAL FIRE: Princeton firemen stand outside the Princeton Road home of Leland M. Burr III, who died in a Friday morning fire from inhalation.

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