Officials probe ruins of Polycel plant searching for cause of Route 206 blaze
by Carol Perkin
MONTGOMERY — No cause has yet been determined and no figure estimated for the damage caused by the early morning fire last Thursday that destroyed the 200,000-square-foot Polycel Corp. building on Route 206.
Fire officials and spokesmen from Polycel said yesterday they don’t know what caused the fire and are still waiting to hear from investigators from the arson unit of the State Police and Polycel’s insurance company.
MORE THAN 100 firemen from eight fire companies, including New Jersey Neuropsychchiatric Institute, responded to the alarm at 3:11 a.m. Thursday. The CB radio call was sent in by one of the six employees working the night shift at Polycel, according to Montgomery Fire Chief Don Perkins of Volunteer Fire Co. No. 2. The telephone in the building had gone dead by the time the employees checked the smoke and tried to call for help, the chief said.
Firemen were still putting out small fires that erupted from the rubble until about 6 a.m. Saturday morning. Chief Perkins said. There were several small explosions from the burned building during the course of the fire, probably due to the chemicals stored at the plastics manufacturing plant, he said.
One fireman was injured when a steamer cap from a fire hydrant hit him in the chest. He suffered two broken ribs.
There have been no fires at Polycel during the past six years, Chief Perkins added. Thursday’s fire was the worst township fire since the Fifth Dimension building in Research Park burned down June 1974.
DENSE SMOKE from the blaze caused state police to warn Merritt Lane residents near Rocky Hill to be prepared to evacuate their homes. Chief Perkins said he received calls from people later that day asking when they could return to their houses. The Merritt Lane area was considered safe from smoke several hours after the blaze began.
Firemen battling the fire were advised by a physician for Rocky Hill Fire Co. to have chest x-rays and blood tests to check for chemical and plastics particles that may have been inhaled during the fire.
Of the 115 firemen that have been checked only one received a questionable x-ray, the chief said, The blood tests had not yet been received yesterday.
Polycel officers set up temporary offices in the conference room of the Princeton Chemical Research building next to the old Polycel office Friday afternoon but moved to a back room of the GM Printing Services Co. in the Montgomery Shopping Center.! They plan to move to temporary offices in building J at Research Park on Route 206, this week according to Brad Donnell, vice president of engineering for the firm.
POLYCEL REPRESENTATIVES requested extra police protection Sunday after they observed unauthorized people on the grounds.
Mr. Donnell said the company is placing orders they cannot fill with competitors and is attempting to find jobs for some employees with other companies.
Polycel had recently applied to the Montgomery zoning board for a variance to double the size of their building for offices and storage space.
POLYCEL DESTROYED By Fire. One wall and blackened and twisted girders are all that remain of the Polycel Corporation building off Route 206 in Rocky Hill that was destroyed by fire last week.
Firemen from Montgomery Township and surrounding areas, more than 100 strong, fought the fire for four hours in the early morning in below – freezing weather. Water from their hoses froze on Route 206, forcing police to detour traffic between Route 518 and Sycamore Lane.
Cause of the chemical fire is still under investigation. The alarm was sounded shortly after 3 Thursday morning and the blackened remains were still smoldering Friday afternoon.
The cinderblock building, more than 100 feet long, was located just north of the Montgomery Shopping Center.
At the Polycel plant fire. Chief Dan Pullen of Hillsborough township directed volunteers in below-freezing weather from Rocky Hill, Princeton and Hopewell Townships and Griggstown.
Kingston and the Neuropsychiatric Hospital assisted With backup units.
MORE THAN A hundred volunteers from Montgomery Township and nearby towns answered a 3:09 a.m. alarm at the Polycel Corp. plant and fought for four hours to control the chemical fire. They were still pumping water on the smoking remains of the plant, more than hundred foot long at 9 a.m. The cause of the fire was not quickly determined.
FIRE GUTS KITCHEN In Mountain Avenue Home. A Monday fire that destroyed the kitchen of the home of E. Drexel Godfrey Jr.. 81 Mountain Avenue, also resulted in extensive smoke and water damage. No one was home at the time.
The fire was confined to the kitchen, which is a blackened ruin, but firemen report they do not yet know what caused the blaze. A general alarm was sounded at 4:18.
Princeton University freshman Allene Russell said that she was jogging by the house when she noticed an orange glow inside. She went up, looked in. saw it was a fire and banged on the door but received no answer.
Miss Russell said that she then ran to a house across the street and kept banging on the door until a man answered. She told him to call in the alarm. “The glass got all hot and the windows started to pop,” she reported, allowing flames to spread outward.
According to neighbors, the Godfreys and their daughter, Susan, were out shopping at the time. They had moved into the two-story wooden frame home some three years ago and had re-modeled it 18 months ago. The kitchen is located in the right front room.
“All the family was coming home for Thanksgiving,” a neighbor said. “Now all that’s gone by the board.”
BANK FIRE OBSERVED By Passing Pedestrian. A pedestrian walking on Nassau Street last Wednesday evening at 9:24 observed a fire in the Princeton Bank and Trust Company and called police from the telephone at the corner of Nassau and Witherspoon Street.
After Ptl. William Fitch. Ptl. John Holcombe and Sgt. Thomas Michaud responded. Ptl. Fitch forced his way inside by smashing a pane of glass. Police requested one piece of equipment for a fire that was burning in a trash cart. With the aid of fireman Tom Johnson, they extinguished the blaze but not before there was some damage to the carpeting and a railing.
Stove Fire. A cooking pan left on a stove at the apartment of Shelly Craig, 40 Tupelo Row, led to a call for aid at 2:35 Saturday morning.
Ptl. David Wilbur reports that the bottom of the pan melted out, leaving char marks on top of the stove. There was also some charing and blistering of paint on a wall behind the stove. The fire was extinguished by a unit of the volunteer firemen.
Car Fire, the car of Susan Bauch of East Windsor had to be towed away last week after a fire erupted in its engine compartment. Police said the cause was an electrical short.
Miss Bauch’s car was in a driveway on North Harrison Street near Clearview when a firemen arrived.