By Kristopher Seals
NEWARK - The long-standing problem of abandoned houses has led to tragedy in the Vailsburg section of Newark July 20.
In the early morning hours, a call came in to the fire department about a blaze at the vacant 31 Brookdale Avenue building, which quickly spread to neighboring dwellings at 33 and 35. It took over two hours to bring the inferno under control, but the damage was done. Other buildings near the scene were damaged by the fire, and the smell of smoke filled the air for days after it was extinguished. Officials with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office have declared that the incident is still under investigation.
The devastating fire would claim the lives of 2-year-old Javena Joseph and her 3-year-old sibling Javens Joseph, 5-year-old Angela Williams, Nazir Blackstone, 17, and Shelton Freeman, 44. All five died due to apparent smoke inhalation. The parents of the Joseph siblings escaped with two other children.
“My deep condolences go out to the victims and their families who are suffering because of this terrible fire,” said Mayor Booker in a statement. “This is a tragic loss for all those affected and our city as a whole.
“As we continue to work on and investigate this incident, we are also doing everything we can to support the families who have been so severely impacted.”
“We received the call at 1:37 am, and by 1:43, our firefighters were on scene,” said Newark Fire Director Fateen Ziyad. “At 1:47 am we had a third alarm fire. It was a horrific situation. Mutual aid backed us up in other parts of the city...Because of the magnitude of damage, the arson squad is still investigating.
“We had the American Red Cross and Salvation Army providing aid to the victims. SocialSave Services has been helping those families that suffered fatalities. Five or six families were put up in hotels and given food vouchers. I met with the families yesterday (July 22).”
Director Ziyad mentioned that those who are looking to support the families may make donations to the victims of the 33 Brookdale Ave. fire by way of the Newark Firefighters charity fund, located at 1010 18th Avenue. All of the donations will go to the victims.
The remains of 31 Brookdale have been torn down, while 33 is currently being demolished. Nothing is clear about what will happen with 35 Brookdale.