A 60-year-old Hopelawn woman, Elvira Bustin, died early Tuesday morning in a fire that spread through her home and the house next door.
and seven other fire companies responded to the blaze, which started in Bustin's home at 98 Lee Avenue and spread across a narrow alley to the neighboring home at 96 Lee, where the resulting heat melted the vinyl siding off a detached garage.
Fire companies battled both blazes until after 5 am, said Hopelawn Fire Official Frank Dellapietro, who said Bustin was found collapsed in the second story living room of her home.
"She got out of the bedroom, and was three quarters of the way out of the house when she was found," he said. She was pronounced dead at the scene, Dellapietro said. Her son was treated for smoke-inhalation.
"He had been sleeping, and he woke up to hear his mother screaming," Dellapietro said. "He went downstairs, and tried to get her, but he lost her in the smoke."
The family at 96 Lee Avenue escaped with no injuries, Dellapietro said, and no firefighters were injured.
Neighbors said that Bustin had been bedridden and on oxygen. Dellapietro said that the burst of pure oxygen from the aluminum tank, which "failed during the fire," could have caused a fireball that would've accounted for the explosion and intense heat of the blaze. However, the cause of the fire is undetermined.
Dellapietro said, "Most of the damage sustained to both buildings was in the back of the house," where neighbors said Bustin's bedroom was located. When the fire companies pulled up, including the Hopelawn Fire Department, from Loretta Street, a block away, "they had their hands full," he said.
Jessica, a neighbor who watched the fire from her home across the street, said police had moved other neighbors toward her house and away from the blaze for their own safety.
Another neighbor, Barbara, who lives just a few blocks away on Howard Street, said she heard "an explosion," adding, "I thought it was a crash on the Parkway."
John Bustin, Elvira's husband, was not home during the fire. He had been taken ill earlier in the day and transported to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Dellapietro said.
In addition to the Hopelawn Fire Department, fire companies from Keasbey, Fords, Woodbridge, Iselin #11, Iselin #9, Colonia, and Melrose in Sayreville either responded to the call or "provided coverage while Hopelawn was fighting the fire," Dellapietro said.
Woodbridge Township Ambulance and Rescue Squad was also at the scene, he added.