A six-alarm fire broke out late Wednesday night, gutting Ferraro's, the storied Westfield restaurant and lounge, and continuing into the early-morning hours Thursday.
No one was in the restaurant at the time of the fire, but the six residents from the three apartments on the second and third floors of the building all survived the blaze; only two residents were treated for cases of smoke inhalation.
Deputy Fire Chief David Kelly said they got the alarm at midnight and were on the scene of the North Avenue restaurant within minutes. "The fire was showing when we got here," he said. Kelly said the fire, which is under investigation, originated in the entrance. He said that members of the Union County Fire Investigation Unit and the investigation unit of the State Division of Fire Safety were also at the scene.
"There is substantial damage," Kelly said. "Ferraro's will be out of business for awhile."
Kelly said that Anthology, a Quimby Street women's boutique that shares a wall with Ferraro's, sustained smoke damage. Another adjacent business, the Christine Cosenza State Farm Insurance Agency, at the corner of Elm Street and North Avenue, also suffered smoke damage.
Ferraro's manager Joe Bolizzi said "It's a shame it happened. There are no words. Our bosses were like, 'What the hell happened? We have to try to regroup.' The restaurant is pretty much destroyed. From what I saw, forget about it." He said he has no idea how or where the fire started.
At 1:35 a.m. Thursday, fire departments battled flames that could be seen shooting through the roof of the restaurant. By 2:30 a.m., the fire appeared to be completely extinguished. But the smell of gas lingered in the air, until three workers from PSEG turned off the gas from below street level.
Laura Debrossy, who works at The Running Company on Quimby Street, was loading new merchandise into the store at about midnight, when she said she smelled smoke and walked around to the front of Ferraro's.
"I couldn't see a foot in front of me, there was so much smoke." Debrussy said, adding that 10 minutes later, windows in the apartments started to shatter.
Debrussy said she saw Gladys Alayon, who lived in one of the apartments escape with her 7-year-old daughter. Alayon's brother, Edward Torres, also lives in the apartment that they've been sharing since August.
Alayon was sleeping when she was awakened by the fire alarm. "I heard the alarm ring from the back bedroom, woke up and smelled smoke," she said, adding that they've been living in the apartment since August.
"She didn't just wake me up," Torres said. "She woke everyone up. She saved everyone." He said that they all got out, but his dog, a German Shepherd/Collie they got from a shelter, got off the leash and ran back into the apartment.
"When i went back for the dog, there was so much smoke I couldn't see my hand in front of my face," Torres said, adding that he found the dog hiding under a bed in the back bedroom. When came back out, passed out on the curb. "They took me to Overlook Hospital," he said, "they did blood work, put me on oxygen. i got real lucky. I was spitting up black, and everything." He said his dog is fine but he will be taking it to the veterinarian today.
Another resident, suffering from smoke inhalation, was taken to Overlook Hospital. Multiple rescue squads were on the scene. A man who escaped his apartment with his two dogs; all the residents displaced by the fire were staying at the Westfield Inn. Mike Prasad, emergency services director for the American Red Cross' Tri-County Chapter, was at the scene to provide assistance to residents of the damaged apartments.
Kelly said the apartments were off limits, but wasn't sure for how long.
The Jolly Trolley took in the people who needed assistance. Two women and a man, who declined to give their names, were asked if they lived in the apartments.
"Before tonight I did," the man said quietly.
As the Westfield Fire Department led the efforts to fight the fire, firefighters from Elizabeth and Berkeley Heights manned the operation at WFD headquarters.
Firefighters spent hours on the roof of the building, trying to contain the blaze as heavy black smoke poured from windows that firefighters had broken through on the Quimby Street side of the structure, which comprises three storefronts. Ladder trucks from the Mountainside, Cranford, Fanwood and Springfield fire departments were used to fight the flames.
Fire departments from Westfield, Cranford, Mountainside, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Millburn, Linden, Kenilworth, Garwood, Springfield, Roselle, Summit, Plainfield, South Plainfield, New Providence and Hillside were battling the blaze.
Started as a mom-and-pop pizzeria in 1969, Ferraro's occupies three buildings along Elm Street and features a separate dining room in each building, including a room for fine dining, a casual pizzeria and a lounge with live music.