Investigators Have Departed Site of Fatal Blaze, Will Likely Return

Tax records indicate Joseph and Margaret Smizaski own 550 River Road.

UPDATE: 12:56 p.m. Investigators are no longer at the scene of a home at 550 River Road where a garage fire Monday killed a township woman. The blaze remains under investigation, so police and Morris County Prosecutor's Office officials could return to the site.

Chatham Township Police Lt. George Petersen said last night at about 7 p.m. that police would wrap up their work on site before nightfall. The home, however, remains secured by yellow police tape, and police said this morning the investigation into the fire is ongoing.

According to tax records, the home is owned by Joseph and Margaret Smizaski, who purchased the home in September 2005. Petersen said yesterday that the family's mother was believed to have been the one who died in the fire. He said the couple has two young children.

"[They] were in school at the time," Petersen said yesterday.

He said the fire started in and around the car in the home's garage. Investigators believe the car was a Honda of some sort—possibly a Honda CR-V.

Petersen said the woman who died was alongside the car when she was found.

The fire began just after 1 p.m. yesterday. Firefighters rushed to the garage around 1:15 p.m. and extinguished the flames, but investigators—some of whom came from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—remained on the scene until nightfall. The Morris County Prosecutor's Office is investigating the case.

Investigators have not yet determined the fire's cause.

Chatham Township Department of Public Works Road Serviceman Vito Capabianco was right down the road from the house and was helping to pave a section of River Road when the fire began. He and fellow DPW worker Don Kidd heard screaming and yelling before turning around and seeing smoke.

"We ran over real fast and we ran up to the driveway," Capabianco said this morning as he continued work on River Road, along with fellow DPW members, in the same spot where he had been working the day before.

Capabianco, Kidd and another person who Capabianco said he did not know grabbed a garden hose nearby and attempted to douse the flames with water. But the fire was extremely hot, and "it was such a small stream" coming from the hose, as Public Works Director Joe Barilla put it this morning.

"It was too intense," Capabianco said. "The lady inside, she was trying to get out of the car, and I saw her. But I guess it was too late.

"It just makes you feel ... it [stinks]," Capabianco continued. "Then you go home and think about it."

John Strelkoff, who owns Bottle Hill Window in Madison and was cleaning windows nearby at 548 River Road when the fire began, said yesterday that the heat from the fire was extremely intense, and said he heard things start to pop inside the garage as the fire was raging.

The American Red Cross Colonial Crossroads Chapter's Disaster Action Team was on hand yesterday to potentially "provide temporary shelter and housing" to anyone who needed it, as Chapter Marketing and Communications Manager Mary Schaenen put it. Red Cross officials were also there to provide counseling to anyone who needed it, and Barilla said some DPW members might fall into that category.

"We're going to arrange for counseling probably for my whole department," he said.

Township police officers remain on duty to observe the home.


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