OLD BRIDGE -- Firefighters’ efforts to reach a 21-year-old man and his father were hampered by clutter around a stairwell that made the blaze in their Old Bridge home burn more intensely, the township’s mayor said today.
Police said they rushed to the West Alton Place home at about 7:40 p.m. Saturday after Peter Lee, 60, called to report an electrical fire that began in the wall of the second-floor master bedroom.
Lee and his son Nicholas Lee, who is believed to have been autistic, died in the fire. Lee’s wife and another son were on the first floor and were rescued. They were taken to a hospital, authorities said, but their conditions could not be obtained today.
A dispatcher had told Lee to get everyone out of the house, according to Old Bridge police Lt. George Stader, but Lee never made it downstairs.
Authorities said Lee’s wife, whose name was not available, was calling out for them to reach her two family members trapped upstairs. But the first responders — officer Aaron Matikonis and South Old Bridge Fire Chief Kenneth Gibson — were blocked from the stairway by "thick smoke and intense flames."
Old Bridge Mayor James Phillips said the Police Chief Thomas Collow told him items in the family’s home made the blaze worse.
"Somebody was collecting something in there," Phillips said. "It made the fire burn hotter and faster."
Laundry baskets and clothing sat on the home’s front lawn today. Boxes filled with papers were visible through a ground-level window.
The fire remains under investigation by police and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.