By DON STINE
A wind-whipped fire destroyed four buildings and damaged others today in the northeast section of Ocean Grove., including two condominiums and an abandoned hotel that had been the source of concern for residents for years.
“If the wind was as high as it was yesterday, I think we might have lost the entire block,” Neptune Police Chief James Hunt Jr. said.
Various fire department responded to the alarm, which came in at 5:09 a.m. Buildings affected by the fire include the 36-unit LaPierre condominiums, at 16 Lake Avenue, the nearby Marlborough condominiums, four residential homes and the vacant Warrington Hotel, at 22 Lake Ave.
Police believe the fire may have started in the Warrington Hotel and the possibility of squatters being involved is under investigation. There were other buildings the area also undergoing renovations.
The Warrington has been a concern of Ocean Grove residents for some, due to its dilapidated condition.
Residents from several of the damaged buildings were receiving on-site assistance from local police and other agencies, many walking around with their dogs or cats in cat-carriers. Many sidewalks were icy from water coming from fire hoses.
One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said her brother and his girlfriend, who live in the LaPierre, were awakened early by the sirens and found their building was on fire.
“My brother ran into the courtyard of the building and started yelling for people to wake up and evacuate the building,” she said.
Ocean Grove resident Stephen Saporito said he heard the fire engine sirens from his Benson Avenue residence and immediately went to the scene of the fire. He said firefighters already had a good handle on the situation but the fire was still not under control at 9 a.m.
Benson, who is from Oregon, has only lived in Ocean Grove for about three months and this was his first fire in the historic district.
Asked if the fire gives him pause about living in Ocean Grove, he said not at all.
“I love Ocean Grove and I have no second thoughts,” he said.
Two firefighters sustained minor injuries from the blaze but are expected to make a full recovery.