Jason Lugo woke up early Tuesday morning to the sound of his neighbors throwing rocks at his window. He jumped off the second story, reaching safety before a fire tore through two Newhallville homes.
Lugo, who’s 18, was one of 16 adults and three kids who fled safely from a three-alarm fire that drew 50 firefighters to a rainy block of Newhallville. The fire started in the first floor of 111 Hazel St., where Lugo lives, and spread to a three-story house next door, 113-115 Hazel, according to Fire Chief Michael Grant. The fire’s cause is unknown at this point.
The fire call came in at 5:30 a.m. Firefighters entered a house with roaring flames and quelled the conflagration within about half an hour, Grant said. No one was injured, he said.
Lugo (pictured) said he woke up to the banging at his second-story window and found his first-floor neighbors throwing rocks to get his attention. He saw a woman outside.
“She said, ‘Get out! Get out. The house is on fire!” he recalled, standing at the scene a couple of hours later.
Lugo just moved into the house a month ago with a couple and their baby. He woke up the couple and told them to get out of the house.
Elizabeth Czekaj grabbed her baby Isacc and headed for the stairs. She found the hallway filled with smoke.
“I couldn’t see to go down the stairs,” she said. She waited a moment at the top. “Eventually, I just decided to take a risk.”
She said her 7-month-old baby suffers from asthma. “If the smoke was choking me, I was worried it was choking him.”
“I just wanted to get out,” she recalled, cradling Isacc on a neighbor’s porch as firefighters finished dousing her house.
Her boyfriend, Christian Fontanez, 22, stayed behind to look for his wallet. He said he’s collecting unemployment and was due to get paid today. Lugo waited for him in their second-floor apartment. As the fire got worse, they gave up the hunt. By the time they decided to go, smoke was getting thick.
“As soon as I opened the door, the smoke slapped me in the face,” Lugo recalled.
So they stepped out to the roof over the first-floor porch. They decided to jump.
“I was scared,” recalled Fontanez.
“I felt I had no choice,” Lugo said.
Neighbors saw them jump off the porch and called 911.
Meanwhile, James Holden (pictured), who lives next door, was leaving for work shortly before 5:30 a.m. He looked outside and saw his neighbors jumping off the roof, he said.
“Once I saw them jumping, my instinct was to find out what was going on,” Holden recalled. “That’s when I knew I had to go and get my family out.”
Holden grabbed his wife, who’s 40, and his 19-year-old daughter, who was carrying a baby. Cops let his daughter and baby seek shelter from the rain in a police cruiser. The fire spread to the house Holden is renting, 113-115 Hazel, and ate through a good portion of the third floor and roof.
“It’s emotional,” he said as he watched the flames flicker on his roof Tuesday morning. “You see things on TV about fires, but when it hits your house, you don’t know how to react.”
Lisa Anderson (pictured), whose mom owns 113-115 Hazel, said she was home at the time with her two daughters, ages 16 and 5.
Shay Wells, the 16-year-old, is a sophomore at Hillhouse High School. She said she saw flames and alerted her family.
“Mom, the house next door is on fire,” she recalled saying.
“Come on, let’s go!” Anderson replied.
Anderson and her daughter watched as firefighters entered the house with axes and hoses.
Alderwoman Delphine Clyburn arrived on the scene to survey the damage and connect with those who have lost their homes.
Baby Isacc’s parents said they worried about supplies for their baby, who was barefoot, wrapped in a hoodie Tuesday morning. All the baby formula and diapers went up in flames, as well as a new set of clothes.
Lugo, who’s unemployed, said he had just filled out a stack of applications for jobs at the Milford mall, which he’ll have to start over from scratch.
Anderson, whose home was severely damaged, stayed positive.
“It could’ve been worse,” she said. “It’s only stuff. It could be replaced. The most important thing is that we got out.”