Fire at 4113-4115 Westfield Avenue
January 10, 2006

At approximately  0245 hours Engine Companies 9 and 11; Tower Ladders 3 and 1 along with Rescue 1 and Battalion 2 were dispatched to 4113 Westfield Avenue for a reported dwelling fire. Minutes later UMD-NJ Camden EMS units 22 and 21 with US 24 and Medics 43 and 44 were placed on the assignment for reported missing occupants in the home. 

Units arrived to find a two-story brick heavily involved at division A with confirmed missing occupants. Battalion 2 requested the all hands and minutes later the second alarm bringing Squad 7, Engine 1, Engine 6, Ladder 2, Car 3 and Battalion 1. Car 3 also requested an additional Engine Company which brought Engine 10 to the scene for additional assistance. Companies on scene pulled a total of 7 occupants ranging from infant to adult, along with occupants from 4115 Westfield Avenue that also sought transport. Mask Services unit from Pennsauken (1145) was also called to the scene for assistance. Multiple EMS units were called into the scene from Pennsauken (1170, 1178, 1179), Collingswood (1647), Bellmawr (317), Westmont (1557), and a medic from Burlington County (Medic 32).

 The conditions of those occupants that were rescued by Camden City Fire Department are unknown at this time but the other occupants were taken just for evaluation. The cause of the fire is under investigation by Camden City Arson Unit, Camden City FM office and the Camden County Fire Marshals Office. A member from one of the companies operating at the scene was taken by Camden EMS for smoke inhalation. The fire was placed under control at approximately 0345 hours. 

One Child Died in the Blaze.

Camden Courier-Post - January 11, 2006

Family suffers horrible losses in early-morning Camden blaze

Courier-Post Staff

An early-morning fire destroyed an East Camden duplex Tuesday, killing a toddler, critically injuring his parents and five young relatives and leaving two families homeless.

"We lost everything," sobbed Felipa Maximiliano, 39, whose 18-month-old grandson, Alex Palillero, died after flames erupted at 4113 Westfield Avenue. Only five of her 12 family members escaped without serious injuries, and three children jumped into rescuers' arms from a second-floor window.

Flames spread to an adjoining home at 4115 Westfield, where a mother and her three children fled without serious injuries.

One firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation while battling the blaze, which was reported at 2:47 a.m. The fire's cause is under investigation, authorities said.

Members of the dead child's family said they awoke to find their home filled with smoke and flames.

"It was impossible," said Malecio Palillero, 38, the toddler's grandfather, who said family members initially tried to fight the fire. "Everything was gone, even my grandchild."

Nearby residents, alerted by screams, rushed to the burning house and found a nightmarish scene.

Neighbor Daisy Pagan said people were shouting tirate -- jump -- to a woman who appeared to be holding a screaming baby at a second-floor window.

Pagan said the woman seemed reluctant to jump -- and, moments later, the baby stopped screaming.

"You couldn't see any fire, it was just black smoke," said Pagan.

Alex Palillero, 18 months, was taken to Cooper University Hospital, Camden, where he was pronounced dead at 3:49 a.m.

Authorities said the toddler's mother, Adriana Roldan, 19, was in very critical condition Tuesday in the burn unit of Temple University Hospital, Philadelphia.

The child's father, Alfredo Palillero, 22, and his 3-year-old brother, Eduardo, were in critical but stable condition at the hospital, according to Bill Shralow, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

Alfredo Palillero's sister, Guadalupe, 18, and brothers Efren, 19, and Miguel, 15, were also in critical but stable condition at Temple, Shralow said.

The tragedy made a vivid impression on Westfield Avenue resident Webb Jones.

Courier-Post photo
Firefighters work to quell the blaze that broke out early Tuesday at a duplex in the 4100 block of Westfield Avenue.

A firefighter is treated for smoke inhalation at the Westfield Avenue fire early Tuesday. A child was killed in the blaze.

Twin brothers Jonathan and Alex Reina, 14, stand across the street from their home, which was destroyed by fire early Tuesday. Their family escaped with no injuries.

A policeman stands outside the burned-out Camden duplex. A toddler was killed in the blaze and several of his relatives were injured.

"Fire, coming up everywhere," said Jones, adding that he saw a woman jump out a window.

"It was something else," Jones said. "I've never seen anything like that in my life.

The blaze began in the living room of 4113 Westfield and quickly spread to 4115, said Camden city chief fire marshal Ralph A. Roberts.

Malecio Palillero said he and his wife were sleeping in a first-floor room when the fire began. The remaining 10 family members were upstairs, he said.

Authorities were still investigating whether the home had working smoke detectors, said Roberts.

Olga Torres, who lived at 4115 Westfield, said she heard the shrill sound of smoke detectors as she stood outside her own home, but that she didn't believe any alarm had sounded in her neighbors' home.

Juan Diaz, a landscaper who lives in the 4000 block of Westfield Avenue, said in Spanish that he tried to help several burned children as they jumped out of windows.

Authorities said Diaz and another Westfield Avenue resident were treated for minor injuries after the fire.

Diaz, along with some family members, said it took 25 to 30 minutes for firefighters to arrive at the scene. But Roberts rebutted that, saying firefighters arrived promptly and that sometimes time seems longer to those in crisis.

Pagan said she thought police and firefighters arrived promptly but that their efforts were hampered by the lack of a hydrant in the 4100 block of Westfield Avenue.

The closest hydrant was around the corner on 41st Street, Pagan said.

City fire officials said the hydrant's location did not hinder their response.

Thirty-five firefighters brought the two-alarm blaze under control in an hour, Roberts said. Firefighters used ladders to help some occupants of the burning home escape, Roberts said.

Capt. John Church was treated for smoke inhalation and released from Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, Shralow said.

Heat and smoke from the blaze damaged the outer walls of two neighboring properties, at 4111 and 4117 Westfield, Roberts said.

Ezekiel Mfon, a Westfield Avenue landlord, said the Palillero home was recently rehabbed by its owner and was in good condition.

Camden City Councilman Frank Moran said the Torres family is being housed at a hotel with the help of the American Red Cross. He said the Palillero family also will receive assistance.

Roxanne Hughes, who is rehabbing a home across Westfield Avenue, said the burned house had been a joyful sight on Monday afternoon.

"I saw a lady and a child go in with a big cake," Hughes said. "It looked like a birthday cake."

Staff writers Teresa Sicard-Archambeault, Jason Laughlin and Jim Walsh contributed to this report.

Camden Courier-Post - January 11, 2006

'As long as I got my kids out of there'

Courier-Post Staff

Olga Torres awoke to screaming about 3 a.m. Tuesday.

The screaming seemed to come from everywhere, she remembered. People were saying there was a fire.

In bed beside her at her Camden home, 4115 Westfield Avenue, was her 14-year-old son, Jonathan Reina. Also on the second floor, in their bedrooms, were Jonathan's twin brother, Alexander Reina, and her daughter, Yanilka Reina, 15.

"I said, "Get out, get out, fire,' " Torres, 36, remembered. "I didn't even look at the window. I didn't even look nowhere. I just tried to escape from the fire."

Wearing a nightgown, Torres first woke her son beside her. Then the two of them woke her other son and daughter.

"I didn't know what was going on," Alexander recalled. "I thought somebody was in the house."

Torres hustled her family downstairs. Smoke billowed into the home under the front door and they turned to escape out the back, she said.

When they got outside, Torres saw fire ravaging the home connected to her own. Flames were visible through the windows and open doors. The family who lived there, eight adults and four young children she believed were from Mexico, had already left for area hospitals, she said.

Courier-Post photo
Olga Torres recalls how she and her three children fled the fire that destroyed her family's home on Westfield Avenue in Camden on Tuesday..

Olga Torres (front) and her family are being sheltered at the Holiday Inn in Cherry Hill after a fire destroyed their home. With her in the room are daughter Yanilka, sons Jonathan and Alexander, her sister Marilyn Torres and her nephew Raymond Vazquez..

Her neighbors told her they had jumped out windows to escape. Another family in the neighborhood had climbed to second-story windows to help young children escape, she said.

Her children stood outside in shorts and undershirts. Jonathan and Yanilka didn't even have socks, she said. Neighbors brought them sweat pants, jackets and socks as the fire spread into Torres' home of six years, destroying it.

The Red Cross placed her family Tuesday in the Holiday Inn on Route 70 in Cherry Hill. Joined by Torres' sister, Marilyn Torres, 46, and Torres' best friend, also named Marilyn Torres, 32, the family seemed upbeat considering their ordeal. Alexander and Jonathan played cards and Yanilka lay on a bed with her aunt. Olga Torres' most pressing concern was what to tell her husband.

Alberto Reina, 51, has been at Virtua Memorial Hospital Burlington County in Mount Holly since Friday, recovering from an anxiety attack. Afflicted with schizophrenia, he has been experiencing extreme bouts of depression lately, his wife said. Though he is taking medication, she doesn't know when her husband will be released, and how he will react to the news of the fire.

"I don't want to really tell him," Torres said.

The family can stay in two rooms in the hotel for three days and after that would be able to stay for 30 days in a apartment on State Street in North Camden. The city keeps that apartment for emergencies.

"It's fortunate that we have it," said the Rev. Tony Evans, head of the city's Department of Health and Human Services. "When people get put out, homeless, for short-term purposes we put people there until they can get into other housing."

Torres' burned home was Section 8 housing, and she may be able to find another home through Section 8 by the end of the week. She will be given a list of available properties and if she wants to move into one it could be available to her quickly, she said. Her concern was that a new home might not be in a neighborhood where she would want her children to be.

The Red Cross also provided $225 in vouchers for food at the hotel restaurant, Red Hot and Blue, and $700 in vouchers for clothes at Target, she said.

Shopping was the main priority Tuesday, Torres said. She intended to go to Target to find at least one new outfit for each of her children, she said.

"I feel hurt for everything that happened, but I feel very proud that I managed to get out from that fire," she said. "As long as I got my kids out of there, that's my whole life."

Camden Courier-Post - January 11, 2006

Neighborhood a diverse one

Courier-Post Staff

The East Camden homes hit by a fatal fire early Tuesday morning sit in a neighborhood that is ethnically and racially mixed and relatively poor, but a bit better off than most of the city.

Nearly half of the people in the census tract that includes 4113 and 4115 Westfield Avenue were Latino in 2000, according to the most recent data available.

About a third of the residents were black and at least 15 percent were Asian.

The census found the median household income for the neighborhood, historically known as Rosedale/Dudley, was $25,000 a year in 1999, the most recent year available.

The figure for the city overall was $23,400, which was less than half the median household incomes reported in Camden County and statewide.

Residents described the neighborhood as quiet and relatively peaceful.

"It's cool, ain't nothing bad happening," said Arnold Valentine, 18, a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School.

A resident of 41st Street for about four years, Valentine was browsing cell phones Tuesday night at Ritmo Records, at Westfield Avenue and 40th Street.

"I'm out here all the time," he said. "Ain't no violence. The police are out here all the time."

Ritmo Records owner Miguel Amador said he opened the store in 2001 because it allowed him to serve the Hispanic community in Pennsauken and Camden with Spanish-language music, financial services and mobile phones.

"It's not like North Camden, poor people. Right here, it's like average," he said.

About 47 percent of the 1,450 residential units in the census tract were owner-occupied, according to the most recent data. That's a percentage point higher than the citywide rate.

The home ownership rate in Camden County is 66 percent and the statewide figure is 70 percent, according to the census.

Both units involved in the fire are rental properties owned by real-estate investors.

The unit at 4113 Westfield Avenue is owned by Curtis T. Spitz of Lakewood, Ocean County, records show. Its twin, 4115 Westfield, is owned by a Merchantville couple, James and Phyllis Saultz.

Spitz, also known as "Chaim," owns eight residential properties in Camden, and his wife, Miriam, also known as "Mimi," owns six.

The couple declared bankruptcy in May 2005 after a mortgage company attempted to foreclose on 4113 Westfield, court records show. They reported debts totaling $1 million and assets of between $500,000 and $1 million. They are negotiating repayments to creditors under the supervision of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Trenton.

The Saultz family owns dozens of properties in Camden and the suburbs.

Neither the Spitzes nor the Saultzes returned messages for comment Tuesday.

Camden Courier-Post - January 12, 2006

After Fire,
Family Needs Aid

Courier-Post Staff

Two teenage brothers burned in a deadly house fire were released from a hospital Wednesday, while authorities continued to search for the cause of the blaze that destroyed an East Camden duplex.

Also, authorities said a relief fund has been established to help two families left homeless by Tuesday's predawn blaze.

"I'm asking for anyone who can help these families . . . to please send money to this fund," said City Councilman Frank Moran. "These families have lost everything."

Catholic Charities in Camden is collecting furniture and clothing for the fire victims, he added. The American Red Cross also is helping the families.

The blaze killed 18-month-old Alex Palillero and hospitalized six of his relatives. Twelve members of the Palillero family lived at 4113 Westfield Avenue, where the fire began.

Four people escaped without serious injuries from an adjoining home that was also destroyed.

It could take days or weeks to determine the fire's cause, said Braulio Villegas, the city's assistant chief fire marshal. "We're doing a thorough investigation."

Efren Palillero, 19, and his brother Miguel, 15, were released Wednesday from Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.

Courier-Post photo
Angeles Palillero looks over a memorial to 18-month-old Alex Palillero, who died in Tuesday's fire in Camden.

Alex Palillero was killed in Tuesday's fire in Camden.

The dead toddler's parents, Alfredo Palillero, 22, and Adriana Roldan, 19, remained in critical condition in the hospital's burn unit.

But their surviving son, 31-month-old Eduardo Palillero, was upgraded to fair condition, as was Guadalupe Palillero, 18, sister of Alfredo, Efren and Miguel.

The Palilleros are living at a relative's home in Pennsauken, where the living room on Wednesday held a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint. Nearby was a tiny white suit, intended for the toddler's funeral.

Visitors streamed into the house throughout the day, bringing food and offering support. Some did not know the family personally, but shared roots in the town of San Lucas, Mexico.

"We are a small community," said Felipe Morales, a Mexican migrant living in Camden. "So we come here and give our support."

Sister Claire Sullivan, from Camden's Holy Name parish, led a prayer as family members and others knelt before the shrine.

"Let's pray for the soul of Alex, who is in heaven right now," she said. "Let's also pray for the relatives in the hospital and for the family and friends who have come together to support the Palillero family."

Staff writer Jim Walsh contributed to this report.

Camden Courier-Post - January 13, 2006

Duplex Owner Arrested

Courier-Post Staff

The owner of an East Camden duplex that was destroyed in a deadly house fire was wanted for numerous property code violations in the city and elsewhere, authorities said.

Curtis Spitz, of Lakewood, Ocean County, was arrested Wednesday for failure to appear in court, said Bill Shralow, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

Curtis Spitz, the owner of this burned-out duplex in the 4100 block of Westfield Avenue in Camden, was arrested Wednesday for failure to appear in court.

Spitz spent a short time in Camden County Jail before he was released on $12,000 bail. It was unclear whether the property violations stemmed from the home at 4113 Westfield Avenue, which burned down early Tuesday morning. The fire killed 18-month-old Alex Palillero and injured six of his relatives. The duplex home at 4115 Westfield Avenue also burned down.

Alex Palillero's brother, Eduardo, 31 months, was released Thursday from Temple University Children's Medical Center. Three other family members remain hospitalized.

According to property records, Spitz, and his wife, Miriam, own about 17 properties in the city and additional properties in Paulsboro. The Camden Housing Authority referred all calls to the city's legal department, which did not return phone calls for comment. Roberto Feliz, the city's code enforcement officer, did not return phone calls for comment.

Court records show three active warrants for Spitz in Ocean County -- failure to make repairs, failure to remove a parked car from a lawn and theft by deception. The Spitzes could not be reached for comment.

The couple declared bankruptcy in May 2005 after a mortgage company attempted to foreclose on 4113 Westfield Ave., court records show. They reported debts totaling $1 million and assets of between $500,000 and $1 million. They are negotiating repayments to creditors under the supervision of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Trenton.

Fire Marshal Ralph Roberts said it appears the home at 4113 Westfield Avenue had at least one smoke detector but it's uncertain if it was working when the fire broke out.

"We saw the base of it (smoke detector) in the ceiling," said Roberts Thursday morning.

Roberts said electronic devices were removed from the home but they have not yet been linked to the blaze.

"We took out some things that were heavily charred and heavily burned but that's not to say that was the culprit," said Roberts. "We look at everything. It's a systematic, thorough investigation."

Alfredo Palillero, 22, and his wife, Adriana Roldan, 19, remained in critical but stable condition Thursday at Temple University Hospital. They are the parents of Alex and Eduardo Palillero.

Guadalupe Palillero, 18, was in fair condition at the children's facility. Her brothers Efren Palillero, 19, and Miguel Angel Palillero, 15, were released from separate hospitals Wednesday night.

"They look better but they are still in shock and very tired," said Candelaria Morales of Pennsauken, a relative who has taken the Palilleros into her home.

Gannett New Jersey reporter Richard Quinn contributed to this report.