Historic Fire Calls

1924 – A sign of the times was apparent at a fire that briefly required the department’s attention. The Ku Klux Klan erected a large cross in the middle of the night. They wrapped the cross in burlap, poured kerosene on it, and set it afire. They chose an open field on the Baier farm, fronting on North Main Street.

1932 – Within little more than a month two stores suffered considerable damage. Flames again damaged the Red Men’s building. This time a drugstore lost it’s entire stock. A month later a fire occurred at a confectionery store located on Ford Avenue. The two-story building across the street from the Michelin Tire Company was burned beyond repair.

1944 – Death became an unwanted patron at Jack’s Bar and Grill on South Main Street. The three-story dwelling and tavern was run by John Hartlander. The fire was caused by a gas range in the kitchen while people on the premises were sleeping. Mrs. Hartlander crawled out a window and was on the front porch roof calling for Jack. A neighbor heard her screams and came over with a ladder to help her down. Jack, inside, was making his way to the attic room of John Williamson, his boarder, to try to rescue him when he dropped to the floor and suffocated. Firemen were called at 5:15am. They found Hartlander lying on the floor and brought him outside. They later found Williamson and laid him on the ground beside Hartlander. Both had perished.

1945 – A four hour fire destroyed the bowling alley and the rear of the cafeteria in the Michelin Community House. Iron beams that were holding up the cafeteria were actually bent from the intense heat.

1950 – Due to a hurricane, firemen worked long and hard putting salvage covers on roofs and broken windows. They tied down trees toppled by the storm and helped restore electric service. On the following night they were called out to remove a chimney struck by the high winds.

1955 – The most disastrous fire in Milltown’s history from the aspect of economic loss started early in the morning of April 10. Known as the barrel works fire because the site was once occupied by a cooperage firm, the blaze resulted in the destruction of the Katz Linoleum Company’s warehouse off Washington Avenue. Damages were estimated at $350,000. The fire started from causes still not known and kept the firemen on duty at the scene from 2:30am to 7:00pm. In addition, the department was required to return on two subsequent days as flames threatened to break out again. The debris was doused down each time and finally subsided.

1964 – Seventeen persons were injured, six of the seriously, in a chain reaction collision on the NJ Turnpike after a breeze whipped smoke from a nearby field fire across the superhighway in Milltown.

1965 – Another life was claimed when a fire broke out on the second floor of a home located at 49 Riva Avenue. The body of Donald Hughes was found buried under clothes on the floor of his bedroom closet. Hughes was the grandson of John Williamson who had also died in a fire.

1975 – A trio of fires, one of which destroyed the interior of a warehouse, erupted at the Chicopee Manufacturing Co. complex on Ford Avenue at Main Street. About half an hour after the fire was discovered, flames shot through the roof, pouring out thick smoke and flaming chunks of metal. The fire caused an estimated $100,000 in damage, arson was the suspected cause of the fires.

1983 – The Golden Lion Inn on Main Street was evacuated by the Fire Department following the discovery of gasoline seepage in the basement. The fuel, which accumulated in the sump pump pit of the historic tavern, caused dangerous fumes to rise upstairs. Firemen kept a round-the-clock watch during the week long evacuation, tenants living in upper floor apartments were forced to find alternate living arrangements.

1986 – Arson caused a fire at the Milltown Amoco Station on Main Street. Gas pumps, cars parked in the lot and cars parked in the bays were vandalized then one of the cars was set on fire. As firemen were fighting the fire, a bomb scare was reported at the home of one of the owners. Damage was estimated at $120,000.

1987 – A gas explosion completely destroyed a two-family house at 117 Riva Avenue. Chief Ray Jolly said the explosion happened when the basement filled with gas after a contractor, making a new porch, ruptured a gas line. There was no-one home at the time, and there were no injuries. The Fire Department received the call shortly after noon and was on the scene until 8:00pm. Nothing could be salvaged in the home.

1991 – 66 year old John Thompkins of 120 West Church Street was found unconscious with 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 70% of his body when the Fire Department arrived at his home. The fire was contained in about 10 minutes, though the home was gutted. Mr Thompkins died 5 days later.

1996 – A Thanksgiving Day fire claimed the life of a 51 year old woman. Evelyn Nigilo was found dead in the bedroom of her second-story apartment at The Mill condominium complex, 40 Washington Avenue. The fire, which was contained to Nigilo’s apartment, apparently began in her bedroom and forced the evacuation of the building for about three hours as firefighters from eight area departments battled the blaze.

1998 – Flames were shooting through the roof as fire fighters arrived at Birds of Different Feathers, breeders of exotic birds, 87 Washington Avenue. The fire started on the 2nd floor and the business owner was unaware of it until a passerby came into the shop to tell him. Although dozens of birds were rescued, approximately 30 birds valued at $500 – $600 each, died in the fire.

2000 – An immigrant family and their landlord escaped a swiftly moving fire that destroyed a 90-year-old Victorian home located at 83 North Main Street. Borough firefighters had the blaze under control within an hour. Investigators blamed the fire on an overloaded extension cord.

2000 – Firefighters received the call at 1:00am, the old Chicopee diaper plant, located on Ford Avenue and Clay Street, was engulfed in flames. More than 150 firefighters from around the county also responded to assist in extinguishing the blaze, which was fast burning out of control. It would be approximately 29 hours before the fire was out. Firefighters cut a trench in the building’s roof and used a backhoe to dig a 10-foot-wide opening in the ground to keep the fire from spreading to an adjacent warehouse. The 750,000 square foot plant had been unoccupied since 1986.

2002 – A fire destroyed a home on North Brook Drive, killing a family cat, but injuring no one. The blaze sent flames roaring into the sky over the street of well kept homes. When firefighters arrived, smoke was pouring from the one-story wood-frame ranch house. “The flames were massive.” said a neighbor. The fire started on the outside deck and crawled into and across the attic.