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Toms River Family Homeless After House Fire

Blaze spread from garage to attic, engulfing parked car and power lines

A Toms River family is homeless after a structural fire gutted the single-story ranch in front of the around midnight.

The fire ripped through the attached garage and spread to a car parked in the driveway before power lines caught fire, fire officials said.

"Initial reports were of smoke pouring out of the attached garage," said Toms River District 1 Fire Chief John H. Lightbody. When the first arriving officers responded after the call at 11:55 p.m., the garage was ablaze.

Maria Bertollini, her sons Tommy and Steven along with a dog and two cats live in the home, said Bertollini's sister, Kathy More.

More, of Toms River, said the fire was absolutely devastating to a family that had struggled through hardship, saved to buy the home, while living with long-term disability and special needs.

"It's very, very fortunate no one was injured," More said. "But now we don't know where to turn... Clothes, food, the home, it's all gone for them."

The charred frame of the garage was still in overhaul with the Toms River Bureau of Fire Prevention staff at the home this morning. The ranch home appears to sit on the property of Cedar Grove Elementary School, neighboring the property on two sides. The school day was unaffected by the blaze, which was extinguished before 2 a.m.

Fire Chief Jeff Cirz of Station 26, Chief John Gonzalez, and Lightbody, were the first officers to respond to the one-story wood framed home.

The single-family home was ablaze when they arrived, emanating from the garage on the south side of the home and spreading to the living quarters, Lightbody said.  

"The roof system to the garage had already collapsed prior to the first arriving engine," Lightbody said. "The electric service wire to the home fell to the ground, which minimally hampered fire suppression operations."

An Audi A4 was parked in front of the garage and was destroyed in the fire. More said it was her sister's only form of transportation.

Officers found no occupants, except for the family pets. The family's pet dog was located alive by Cirz and turned over to EMS on scene. Two cats ran away after officers tried to evacuate them, Lightbody said.

Engine 2631 of Station 26 was the first engine on location and attacked the exterior fire with a hose line, focusing on the garage and driveway fire.

The garage was completely engulfed, and fire in the attic was spreading through the ceiling, Lightbody said. 

Engine 2671 of Station 26 entered the home to fight the interior fire with a second hose line, said the fire chief.

"Upon entering the structure the crew encountered fire above them in the ceiling and attic of the home. The crew immediately pulled the ceilings and stopped the advancing fire," Lightbody said.

Fire fighters remained on scene putting out hidden fire past 2 a.m. Tuesday.

Additional fire apparatus from Stations 25 and 26 arrived and assisted with fire suppression and overhaul operations. East Dover Fire Company, Station 28 responded to the scene and provided Firefighter Assistance Search Team (FAST) team operations. Cirz was the incident commander, Assistant Fire Chief Eddie Storino was in charge of fire ground operations. 

More said the family stayed this morning in her Bricksburg Court home, the three family members piling into an extra bedroom while housing is found.

"It's heart-wrenching," More said. "We are not a family of means. Now this. It just goes on and on and on."

More said the family is seeking emergency assistance and hopes to set up a fundraiser to help her sister and family recover from the fire. Donations of non-perishables, clothing and gift cards are being sought to help the family, she said. More can be reached at 732-286-3656 or through mail at Kathy More, care of Maria Bertollini, 1956 Bricksburg Court, Toms River 08755.

Mary May 09, 2012 at 05:48 AM
I am so shocked to hear about this terrible tragedy this family has been threw so much Maria Bertolini has been a single mother since her children have been three and five years old her husband died very young she has worked two jobs and it took her six years to graduate college now she is losing her vision her house burns down she has no car no job because she can hardly see and her words were threw all this are god is bigger then my problem god bless her and all who find it in there hearts to help.
laughing at fools May 09, 2012 at 05:54 AM
Yes you are so right, imagine if your only form of transportation was sitting on blocks and then your house burns down and takes what is left of your only transportation
laughing at fools May 09, 2012 at 06:03 AM
This woman lost her husband when he was 38. She was left with two young boys. She worked two jobs and put herself through College . Now she has nothing, where are your hearts? She hasn't been able to work lately because she is having problems with her sight. She is under a doctors care and then this happen, and people want to throw stones, bring it on you fools.
Shelly May 09, 2012 at 12:54 PM
How do you people make posts without using punctuation marks....periods, questions marks, etc.?????? Learn how to write before you make a post that we need to read five times before we understand what you are trying to say!
LisaD May 09, 2012 at 01:30 PM
can someone post the age & clothing sizes of the family... I'd love to pass along some items for the kids.
barbara May 09, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Very well said, LAF, some people have no hearts, they are cold and malicious. These comments should be about helping this family, not throwing stones. Unbelievable......
barbara May 09, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Sorry for your aunt and her family. How old are the boys? What size clothes does your aunt wear? There are alot of good people out there, however, you always get the heartless ones commenting on a horrible situation with negative comments. If they are ever put in a similar situation, sure they would be looking for help and support. Morons for sure.
Seriously? May 09, 2012 at 01:53 PM
This is a horrible thing to happen to anyone, and I'm very happy no one was hurt or killed. But I am very curious about something -- why was there no insurance on the house? Every mortgage company REQUIRES homeowner's insurance to cover fire and damage. And even if she owned the house outright, she should still be able to afford a little bit of insurance because she wouldn't have to make a mortgage payment each month. And yes -- please post age and clothing sizes for the family so people can help.
barbara May 09, 2012 at 01:55 PM
OMG, seriously?????? I only had to read it once.....Think you could have posted a more positive comment, Shelly. Geesh.....
barbara May 09, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Me too.......the mom's size also.
barbara May 09, 2012 at 01:57 PM
How awful, you just never know when your life will be turned upside down. I hope this family gets some assistance with housing. Feel for them.
EducatedCitizen May 09, 2012 at 02:18 PM
The "kids" are both in their 20's...so I'm sure they both have jobs..and a bunch of money saved up since they were still living at home.
EducatedCitizen May 09, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Kid's are in there 20's. Sizes XL, XXL..my guess
EducatedCitizen May 09, 2012 at 02:48 PM
According to the Ocean County Clerk's office. House had a 15yr mortgage started in 1992..paid off in 2007 $42,000. Therefore, nomortgage=no requirement for homeowners insurance.
Shirley Mazeika May 09, 2012 at 04:12 PM
How awful that this should happen to such nice people. I lost my husband 14 YEARs ago when my 2 girls were babies. I live right down the road from these people so if there is something I could help with please let me know. And for the people with negative comments, you are considered to me to be worthless morons!
Patty May 09, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Please post the ages & clothing sizes of all of the family members so donations can be made. Many times people don't want to give cash because they don't know how it is going to be used, but will gladly donate clothing, personal products, housewares, etc.
Bob Hockenfrocken May 09, 2012 at 08:32 PM
How is the Red Cross supposed to help if they are not notified? It's not the Township's responsibility to call them, it's the victims.
laughing at fools May 09, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Hey Bob, how about making the town responsible for letting a victim know what there recourse is in thier hour of need. A sheet with places and numbers that can help. Maybe you could work on that instead of making dum comments.
Momma Mia May 09, 2012 at 10:58 PM
If you have nothing nice to say then shut-up. Did anyone ask you to post here? Have a little compassion would you please? Doesn't matter if they have a job or not, they have lost their home, clothing and everything else. Previous posters are correct, that you don't know what the future holds so choose your words carefully!
Momma Mia May 09, 2012 at 10:59 PM
I would have thought the town would have given them some sort of direction also?
laughing at fools May 09, 2012 at 11:06 PM
One of the boys is special needs child the other just moved back in because he was out of work uneducated citizen.
laughing at fools May 09, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Its times like this we get to see what type of officials we have elected. Lets see who steps up to the plate. Action speaks louder then words, its time for action!
Sharon Lefkowitz May 10, 2012 at 02:17 AM
You individuals with nasty, negative comments should go stick your heads in a hole. I have known Maria for several years and she is one of the nicest, hardest-working people I have ever met. She was having a tough time before this terrible fire. She has serious health problems and she was supporting and caring for her two sons and her 4 pets the best she could. Who the heck are you strangers to judge her? Especially when these people are in need of help and care. If you don't know Maria then keep your inane comments to yourself. For those that wish to help her, I can assure you she is deserving of any assistance you can give. I have very little of my own but I will help in whatever way she needs most. I hope her sister will be able to plan a fundraiser for her and her family so kind-hearted people in this community can help her in a time when she really needs it. Thank You to the posters here who are helpful and caring. To those who are not, hope this happens to you one day and you get the same comments you dish out to others.
Maria Bertolini May 10, 2012 at 01:06 PM
I am Maria and my house was in the fire. I do not know the name of the woman who woke me by knocking on my door and saving our lives. Clearly she saved all of us and she must be one of Gods angels. I will be eternally grateful to you!! Many thanks to those who have helped and all the generosity you have shown, my family is very grateful!! God bless you.
Stacey Chionchio May 10, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Maria, how can we help? Where can we send donations to? I am so sorry for you and your family.
Maria Bertolini May 10, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Georgian Court University is receiving donations on our behalf through the campus ministry dept. We are fortunate in that we have our clothing. Thank you all most sincerely for your concern and help.
holden2112 May 13, 2012 at 12:52 PM
pets are not humans and you dont risk your life for an animal
Can't shut me up May 13, 2012 at 06:51 PM
@holden2112 If there was a fire and I had my choice to rescue you or my dog. You would perish.
ATIS2012 May 23, 2012 at 01:40 PM
and Thomas is in jail for distributing heroin/coke with 75K bail BERTOLINI, THOMAS MATTHE 05-19-2012 26 W0283 2C:35-5B(2) MFG/D/D HER/COKE>=.5OZ<5OZ 2ND 75000.00
barbara May 23, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Hope things are working out Maria. Ignor all these negative comments, some people just have no brains or class. geesh.

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