4 February 1981
Three Large Homes in Princeton Area Severely Damaged by Fire
Two large Princeton homes, former governor Richard Hughes’s residence at 90 Westcott Road, and the home of Frank A. Petito, 89 Lambert Drive, were damaged by fire last week.
In addition, Princeton firemen responded to a third general alarm at 3:44 Friday afternoon at the home of Mrs. Bruce Nichols, 889 Lawrenceville Road (smoke from a wood stove had backed up; there was no fire) and an early morning fire on Route 206 destroyed a portion of Larchmont, a Lawrenceville mansion, routing four occupants, including the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Jones.
The only occupant in the Hughes home at the time. Patrick Murphy, was awakened by a sounding smoke alarm, and called police at 3:19 Thursday morning, reporting a fire in the kitchen. He had been sleeping in a third floor bedroom.
“That smoke detector probably saved his life—and the house.” commented Fire Chief Ralph Hulit Jr. “If the fire had much more time, it would have been pretty bad.
“It can be a matter of just minutes.” continued Chief Hulit. “between the time there is light smoke in a house and the time it becomes deadly.” A smoke detector, properly installed, he said, is the best protection against fire.
When firemen arrived at the Hughes home, they found the long kitchen enveloped in flames and flames shooting out the kitchen door and side of the house. It was brought under control in about 20 minutes according to Chief Hulit.
The kitchen was gutted and there was heavy smoke damage to the entire house. There was also water damage to the kitchen and to the
Comment of the Week
“People come in contact with Municipal Court more than with any other court. This places a very special responsibility on the whole court because from that experience, people will learn respect—or lack of it—for the whole system. I want people to feel they’ve had their day in court, even if they’re not satisfied with the result.”—Russell Annich, now Borough Magistrate (See Page 9)
basement area directly beneath.
Chief Hulit said that it is believed that a pan left on an electric stove which over-heated was the cause of the fire. He added that apparently the owners had been having problems with the stove beforehand. Firemen left the scene at 4:57 a.m.
A neighbor reported the fire at the Petito home at 8:07 last Tuesday evening, after seeing flames on the roof. The house is vacant and for sale, but Chief Hulit reported that there was furniture inside.
On the arrival of the firemen, flames were shooting through the roof. The firemen forced their way into the house and upstairs, where they found the fire confined to the attic area “It was extinguished fairly quickly” said Chief Hulit.
Fire damage was limited to the roof and attic area but there was also heavy water damage to the first and second floors under the fire. Since the fire vented itself through the roof, smoke damage was relatively light.
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The fire was investigated by Chief Hulit and Mercer County Fire Inspector John Kubilowicz. They said the cause was electrical. Chief Hulit said it is believed that an electrical low voltage relay for outside lights had malfunctioned. Firemen from all three Princeton volunteer companies remained at the scene for about three hours.
A Princeton Realtor said that the Petito home and the Hughes home, which is also reportedly for sale, were both valued at $340,000.
Four in Six Days. At the Nichols home, which sent firemen scurrying to their fourth general alarm in six days, Chief Hulit reported that an apparent down draft had forced smoke from a clogged wood stove to fill the house. He noted wearily that firemen had checked out 21 fire calls in January.