A Toms River family is homeless after a structural fire gutted the single-story ranch in front of the around midnight.
The fire ripped through the attached garage and spread to a car parked in the driveway before power lines caught fire, fire officials said.
"Initial reports were of smoke pouring out of the attached garage," said Toms River District 1 Fire Chief John H. Lightbody. When the first arriving officers responded after the call at 11:55 p.m., the garage was ablaze.
Maria Bertollini, her sons Tommy and Steven along with a dog and two cats live in the home, said Bertollini's sister, Kathy More.
More, of Toms River, said the fire was absolutely devastating to a family that had struggled through hardship, saved to buy the home, while living with long-term disability and special needs.
"It's very, very fortunate no one was injured," More said. "But now we don't know where to turn... Clothes, food, the home, it's all gone for them."
The charred frame of the garage was still in overhaul with the Toms River Bureau of Fire Prevention staff at the home this morning. The ranch home appears to sit on the property of Cedar Grove Elementary School, neighboring the property on two sides. The school day was unaffected by the blaze, which was extinguished before 2 a.m.
Fire Chief Jeff Cirz of Station 26, Chief John Gonzalez, and Lightbody, were the first officers to respond to the one-story wood framed home.
The single-family home was ablaze when they arrived, emanating from the garage on the south side of the home and spreading to the living quarters, Lightbody said.
"The roof system to the garage had already collapsed prior to the first arriving engine," Lightbody said. "The electric service wire to the home fell to the ground, which minimally hampered fire suppression operations."
An Audi A4 was parked in front of the garage and was destroyed in the fire. More said it was her sister's only form of transportation.
Officers found no occupants, except for the family pets. The family's pet dog was located alive by Cirz and turned over to EMS on scene. Two cats ran away after officers tried to evacuate them, Lightbody said.
Engine 2631 of Station 26 was the first engine on location and attacked the exterior fire with a hose line, focusing on the garage and driveway fire.
The garage was completely engulfed, and fire in the attic was spreading through the ceiling, Lightbody said.
Engine 2671 of Station 26 entered the home to fight the interior fire with a second hose line, said the fire chief.
"Upon entering the structure the crew encountered fire above them in the ceiling and attic of the home. The crew immediately pulled the ceilings and stopped the advancing fire," Lightbody said.
Fire fighters remained on scene putting out hidden fire past 2 a.m. Tuesday.
Additional fire apparatus from Stations 25 and 26 arrived and assisted with fire suppression and overhaul operations. East Dover Fire Company, Station 28 responded to the scene and provided Firefighter Assistance Search Team (FAST) team operations. Cirz was the incident commander, Assistant Fire Chief Eddie Storino was in charge of fire ground operations.
More said the family stayed this morning in her Bricksburg Court home, the three family members piling into an extra bedroom while housing is found.
"It's heart-wrenching," More said. "We are not a family of means. Now this. It just goes on and on and on."
More said the family is seeking emergency assistance and hopes to set up a fundraiser to help her sister and family recover from the fire. Donations of non-perishables, clothing and gift cards are being sought to help the family, she said. More can be reached at 732-286-3656 or through mail at Kathy More, care of Maria Bertollini, 1956 Bricksburg Court, Toms River 08755.