Burned house on Valley Road and Walnut Street demolished after 2018 fire
By ERIN ROLL
The burnt-out shell of home that housed seven Montclairites until it caught fire on a cold, snowy November evening is now gone.
A year and a half after the fire, the multi-family house at the corner of Valley Road and Walnut Street was razed in a matter of hours on Wednesday, March 4.
Although the inhabitants walked away uninjured, the home, deemed uninhabitable after the fire, stood as a reminder of the incident that left seven families homeless and of happier times when they shared each other’s company.
Fred Duff, the house’s former superintendent and one of the seven residents displaced by the fire, posted comments on social media on the house being razed. “16 months after my building burned down it is now been bulldozed. End of the day I'm grateful to be alive.”
A piece of wall with the tenants’ front door mailboxes was still standing amid the debris.
The house caught fire during a heavy snowstorm on Nov. 15, 2018. The unexpected snow caused massive disruptions around the tri-state area as children were left stranded at schools around the region, and road and rail travel was severely disrupted.
The home’s seven residents, including a family with a young son, were all displaced, though nobody was injured.
Some of the occupants still live in the Montclair area, while others have moved to other towns.
The community rallied around the occupants, who lost most of their possessions in the fire, holding fundraisers.
Former resident Jim Kiley, who works at American Royal Hardware on Watchung Plaza, said he didn’t like driving by the burned-out house, because it brought back too many bad memories.
None of the house’s families had extensive access to financial means. “We’re not in a situation where a lot of Montclair residents can call their insurance and have a place to stay in a week,” Kiley said.
But the community’s support was very encouraging, he said. “I tell you, if you’re going to have your house burned down, do it in Montclair,” he said. “They talk the talk and walk the walk.”
Customers at the hardware store offered him money and clothes, and Kiley’s employers were very understanding of what happened.
Kiley and Duff now share an apartment in Montclair.
In the weeks following the fire, Montclair resident Melissa DeMarco organized a series of fundraisers to help the tenants.
A fundraising party was held at Ruthie’s BBQ a week after the fire. Around Montclair, people called her with donation offerings.
“So much good came out of that, and so much potential when the people of this town, who are so smart and resourceful, come together,” DeMarco said.
Former resident Bob Morton stayed with his sister-in-law in her home in Little Falls after the fire. She has since passed away. Her family now owns the house, and has told Morton he can stay for as long as he needs to. However, Morton said, the house is expected to be put up for sale soon. Morton decided to look for other lodging so the family could put the house up for sale. He is now on the waiting list for housing in West Orange and Bloomfield.
Morton has a routine of visiting a barber shop near the old house in Montclair, and he continued that routine, even though it meant going past the house.
Morton lost most of his possessions in the fire. Among them were some well-loved items, including family photos, autographs, and his brother’s 1956 Montclair High School state football championship jacket. “As far as the house being torn down, I’m just glad it’s done,” Morton said, adding that he wasn’t going to get his brother’s jacket or any of the other items back. The fundraising events helped put him back on his feet, he said.
“Time goes on and people pick up the pieces and move on.”