Branchville fire destroys three buildings, injures one firefight - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Branchville fire destroys three buildings, injures one firefighter

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Photos by Jessica Masulli Reyes/New Jersey Herald Photos by Jessica Masulli Reyes/New Jersey Herald
Photo Courtesy of the Hampton Fire Department - Buildings in Branchville are engulfed in flames early Tuesday morning. Photo Courtesy of the Hampton Fire Department - Buildings in Branchville are engulfed in flames early Tuesday morning.
Submitted photo by Bob Kiefer - Firefighters battle a massive fire that leveled a three-building storage facility on Mill Street in Branchville early Tuesday. Submitted photo by Bob Kiefer - Firefighters battle a massive fire that leveled a three-building storage facility on Mill Street in Branchville early Tuesday.

By JESSICA MASULLI REYES
jmasulli@njherald.com

BRANCHVILLE — After getting home from a house fire in Fredon Monday night, some Sussex County volunteer firefighters were called out just hours later for a massive fire that leveled a three-building storage facility on Mill Street in Branchville.

While the Fredon fire has been deemed not suspicious, the cause of the Branchville fire is still under investigation by the New Jersey State Police and the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office.

The fire on 15 Mill Street in Branchville occurred in a storage area owned by Willco Air Conditioning-Refrigeration-Heating. The company that specializes in heating and cooling systems rents out some of the storage buildings to tenants while using one for its own storage. Willco’s main, brick storefront was not damaged in the fire.

A garage closest to the storefront had siding peeling off of it from the fire’s heat. The remaining three structures, which were a mix of a two-story garage, a two-story building and pole-barn buildings with aluminum panels, were all leveled.

Branchville and Frankford fire departments were called to the blaze at 2:35 a.m. Tuesday. Branchville Fire Chief Jon Frato said that Branchville had been providing coverage for the Fredon fire just hours earlier.

When firefighters arrived to Mill Street, they found large flames that had engulfed the right half of the buildings. The fire took nearly four hours to get under control, Frato said.

One firefighter was injured with a broken ankle and was taken to Newton Medical Center, according to Frato.

Two of Branchville’s three fire trucks — a 1994 Telesquirt and a 2002 engine — also suffered damage from the heat of the fire. Frato said Branchville will be able to rely on mutual aid until the truck damage is assessed.

The owner of Willco was unavailable for comment on Tuesday. Jeffrey Braun, owner of JRB Waterfront Construction, rented space at the property and stored his mason dump, backhoe, pick up truck and other equipment in one of the buildings.

As Braun walked through the rubble and stood next to the shell of a truck, he said that he lost his “whole business” in the fire. The Lafayette resident first heard that there was a fire at 6:30 a.m. when a friend of his who lives in Branchville called him. He also received a call from Willco’s owner.

He said he now must look to insurance to see what will be covered.

“I’ll move on, make some new money and buy new stuff,” he said.

The fire was a three-alarm fire, which signifies a high level of mutual aid response from multiple departments.

Responding to the fire were fire departments from Branchville, Frankford, Wantage, Sussex Borough, Montague, Sandyston, Lafayette, Newton, Hardyston, Hampton, Ogdensburg, Milford, Andover Township, Green, Fredon, Vernon, Pochuck and Beemerville. Also responding were state police, the prosecutor’s office, Sussex County Office of Emergency Management, Lakeland Emergency Squad and its Rehabilitation Unit, Lafayette Emergency Squad, Sussex Fire Emergency Squad, Wantage Emergency Squad, Blue Ridge Rescue Squad, Sussex County Fire Marshal, Branchville Office of Emergency Management and Jersey Central Power & Light.

Some of these fire departments responded to the Fredon house first on Roy Road around 5:15 p.m. Monday. The 2,400-square-foot, single-family house of Steven Lepore was heavily damaged. No one was home when the fire broke out and there were no reported injuries.

Sussex County Fire Marshal Joe Inga said that the Fredon fire has been deemed not suspicious. The cause is still undetermined and will likely be investigated by the homeowner’s insurance company.

Inga explained that due to the large nature of the Branchville fire it is automatically investigated by the prosecutor’s office and state police rather than his office. He described it as a “working relationship between” all these offices.


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