By Donald Wittkowski
A raging fire that broke out on Easter morning destroyed two adjacent bayfront duplexes in Sea Isle City and forced neighbors to scramble from their homes until it was determined it was safe enough for them to return.
The duplexes on the 200 block of 75th Street next to Central Avenue were reduced to a charred hulk by the time firefighters had the blaze under control shortly after 6 a.m., authorities said.
The first call to 911 came in at around 5 a.m. Easter Sunday. About 17 minutes later, the Sea Isle Fire Department arrived at the scene to begin battling the blaze. Fire departments from Strathmere, Ocean View, Seaville and Avalon helped fight the fire.
One Sea Isle firefighter suffered minor injuries and was taken by ambulance to Cape Regional Hospital in Cape May Court House for treatment. No other injuries were reported.
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There was no immediate word on what caused the fire, which remains under investigation by police, the Cape May County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office.
The fire started in a duplex at 209 75th Street and spread to the duplex next door at 213 75th Street. A total of four residential units in both duplexes were declared a total loss, authorities said.
One of the duplexes was occupied when the fire started, but everyone was able to escape unharmed, Sea Isle Police Chief Tom McQuillen said.
The duplex owner, who declined to give his name, briefly described the frightening moments when he discovered his house engulfed in flames.
“I woke up and looked out the window and flames were shooting up all over the place,” he said, declining further comment.
As the flames and heavy smoke spread, police officers knocked on the doors of neighboring homes to evacuate residents.
“The police came and told us to evacuate. I couldn’t get dressed fast enough,” Jack Sullivan, a resident of 7404 Central Ave., said of the frantic rush to get out of his house.
Sullivan praised the police for doing a good job in evacuating the neighbors.
Kathy Strauss, who lives with Sullivan, said they heard popping sounds around 5 a.m. and then saw the flames.
“We thought everything would go down because of the inferno,” Strauss said. “It was unbelievable.”
Another neighbor, Kelly Madden, of 7400 Central Ave., said popping sounds woke her up around 5 a.m. before she noticed a “bright light.”
Madden said her husband opened their sliding door and they saw a “roaring fire” burning the duplexes.
“It was on both sides,” she said of the fire. “One full house was engulfed in flames. I called 911.”
It was the third major house fire in Sea Isle in the past two years.
On Nov. 29, 2018, an 89-year-old Sea Isle woman was killed in a fire that destroyed three adjacent homes on 54th Street.
The cause of that fire has not yet been released, although authorities said it appeared to be accidental.
On Nov. 24, 2017, an inferno swept through three adjacent beachfront homes on Pleasure Avenue between 91st and 92nd streets, destroying them all. No one was injured. Investigators were unable to determine how the blaze started.