A community is in shock and disbelief after fire rips through a house on Tiara Avenue in Monroe Township just before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Officials say they received calls from residents inside the house and their neighbors that the flames were spreading quickly.
“On arrival of our crews we found the home to be fully involved, engulfed in flames,” said Calvin Schmitt of the Monroe Charter Township Fire Department.
The heat was so intense that a neighbor's home was damaged and other neighbors had to take precautions.
“My daughter and my son-in-law had to be evacuated,” said James Chytil, a neighbor.
Fire officials say grandparents, Reuben and Amelia Pat Castorena, their daughter Monica, and 16-year-old granddaughter Jessica were able to make it out alive. Their 18-year-old grandson, Alex Johnson did not make it out. He was a junior in the special education classroom at Monroe High School.
“We would see him all the time riding his bike, and just playing. He kept to himself, very friendly always smiling. He was a great kid,” said Jennifer Pfeiffer, a neighbor.
“He would be out with his grandfather a lot,” said Chytil. “I can see why the grandfather went back in to get him.”
Alex's mother and sister have been released from the hospital but his grandparents are still being treated.
“The elderly male is in the burn unit and his wife - the grandmother - is being kept for observation,” said Schmitt.
Investigators say they are actively looking for any clues that will lead them to the cause of the fire.
“We’re bringing in the heavy equipment, working with insurance company, working with the state police,” said Schmitt. “It will probably be throughout the rest of the week before we come up with something more definite."
Investigators are also working to confirm if there were working smoke detectors inside the home.
“I did not hear any smoke detectors on activation, but the neighbors that I interviewed did hear a smoke detector as he was trying to make access into the garage.”
And as fire crews go through the remains of the home, neighbors say they still can't believe this tragedy hit so close to home.
“Was just in shock, just in shock,” said Pfeiffer.