Thursday, December 29, 2005

Fire in Passaic displaces family of 13

From Here:

A couple known for reaching out to others were in need of help themselves Wednesday after a fierce blaze gutted the Passaic Park home where they lived with their 11 children.

More than 50 firefighters battled the flames, which started on the first floor of the Harding Court house and eventually destroyed much of its interior and roof. Officials called it one of the biggest fires in the city this year.

When it started sometime after 6 p.m. Tuesday on the third night of Hanukkah, Elli and Lara Schulman and their children were visiting nearby at her parents' home. Neighbors said the family, known in the city's Orthodox Jewish community for their humility and generosity, had plans to stay there for the immediate future.

Throughout the day Wednesday, people drove or walked slowly by the charred home perched atop a gentle rise. Several spoke warmly of Lara Schulman and her husband, who practiced dentistry in the home before opening an office on Main Avenue in Clifton.

"She helped everyone, especially people who were new to the community," said a woman who asked that her name not be used. "She gave you a lift if you needed it. She took me to my child's music class when I didn't have a car."

Elli Schulman declined to comment through a secretary at his dentistry office.

Deputy Chief Patrick Trentacost said the fire, which was reported at 6:45 p.m. and took 2½ hours to bring under control, appeared to have been accidental. He said it remains under investigation.

It apparently started in a front room and traveled upward through an open stairway, he said. A small team of firefighters remained at the scene until 9 a.m. Wednesday searching for hot spots.

"Because of its intensity, we were concerned about flare-ups through the night," Trentacost said.

Trentacost said the home - which records show the family bought in 1992 - had 11 bedrooms, nine bathrooms and an enclosed elevator.

"For a single-family house it's rather unique to us," he said.

City fire officials said it would be up to the family and their architect whether to raze the house and rebuild, or to try to make repairs.

A house next door on Temple Place sustained some broken windows but firefighters were able to avert fire damage.

In all, firefighters from all six city companies, Clifton, and Carlstadt fought the blaze while departments from five other towns remained on standby at city station houses, Trentacost said.