An argument between a Newark woman and her boyfriend resulted in a four-alarm fire at their apartment building yesterday that left the man hospitalized in critical condition and at least two dozen people homeless, authorities said.
Debra White, 51, allegedly set the bed on fire in apartment 5D at 2 W. Kinney St., said Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office. It was not known whether her boyfriend, 77-year-old Freddie Bryant, was in the bed at the time.
Loriquet said Bryant, who held the lease on the apartment, was listed in critical-to-stable condition at University Hospital last night.
White was charged with attempted murder, aggravated arson and causing widespread injury and damage after an investigation by Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Jeffrey Cartwright, director of the arson task force, Loriquet said. Additional charges may be forthcoming, authorities said, stemming from three firefighters suffering smoke inhalation. White was being held last night at the Essex County Jail.
The fire broke out around 1:30 p.m. at the Center City apartment complex, formerly the Hotel Belmont, fire officials said. By 3:30 p.m., more than two dozen fire, police and other emergency vehicles were on the scene and the roof was fully ablaze. Last night, authorities did not know whether the building, which was declared uninhabitable, could be repaired.
Rosalee McRae, 58, who said she had lived in the six-story building for 18 years, said White had knocked on her door and asked if she could use the phone for an emergency. McRae said she told White to leave when she could not explain the emergency.
"When she left my door, I started playing with my granddaughter. Then I heard the alarm," McRae said.
Residents were quickly evacuated, and two were taken to University Hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.
EMS tents were set up at a nearby former post office parking lot, and three firefighters were treated there for exhaustion. They recovered and returned to fight the blaze. Other residents were taken to St. Michael's Medical Center to receive medication for smoke contamination.
"This is a major fire for the city of Newark," Newark Fire Chief Michael Lalor said as the blaze raged. "It is taxing our resources."