Fatal Cranford house fire filled with ‘storage’

Photo by Brian Trusdell
The house at 155 Hillcrest Ave. in Cranford that was destroyed by fire on Dec. 9 was the subject of ire by neighbors less than a decade ago.

CRANFORD, NJ — A house on Hillcrest Avenue destroyed by a fire that killed a man was filled with “storage,” according to officials, a factor that could have hampered firefighters. Local Fire and Police departments responded to the blaze at the single-family home at 155 Hillcrest Ave. at about 6:45 a.m. Sunday, according to a press release from the fire department.

Firefighters encountered “heavy fire conditions” that prevented them from entering the house initially, according to the release. Once able to enter, they discovered a man’s body on the first floor. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Fire Lt. Matthew Lubin said he expects the Union County Coroner’s Office to release the man’s identity this week.

The conditions inside the home may have not only impeded firefighters, but could have been a factor in the man’s inability to escape.
“There was evidence that he did have a lot of contents in the home,” Lubin said. “Generally, anytime you have that it could make it harder to get in and fight the fire. There was a lot of storage in the home.”

A 2009 article on NJ.com, identified the homeowner as Phil Anter. According to the article, a group of neighbors had presented a petition to the Cranford Township Committees seeking a limit on the number of garage sales one resident can hold in a year, and requiring a permit for such sales. The neighbors’ objections rose from the fact the house at 155 Hillcrest Ave. was often kept in a “state of perpetual garage sale,” with the front lawn covered with items as sales were listed in online classifieds.

Former Cranford health officer Warren Hehl issued a summons for a violation of the property maintenance code, according to the article.
Lubin said that the home will be razed by the end of this week.,

“We can’t account for the structural stability of the unit due to the fire damage, so it has been ordered to be demolished by the construction department,” Lubin said.

Fire crews from several surrounding towns responded through the Union County Fire Mutual Aid system and helped extinguish the fire.
“While it’s very unfortunate that a resident was lost in this fire, I’m thankful for the fast work of our fire and police responders to contain the fire without injury or extensive damage to the neighboring properties,” fire Chief Daniel Czeh said in a press release. “The neighborhood was very appreciative and supportive of our responders.”

The cause of the fire is being investigated by the Union County Fire Investigation Unit.