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Forman Road (Hamilton) Fatal Fire
Posted On: Jan 19, 2011

Two die in Hamilton fire

Published: Tuesday, January 18, 2011, 11:13 PM     Updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2011, 5:38 AM
 By Matt Fair/The Times

HAMILTON — Two young adults were killed and a husband and wife were seriously injured Tuesday morning in a house fire on Forman Drive.

Authorities say the couple’s daughter, Andrea Preston, 27, was trapped in an upstairs bedroom with her boyfriend, Karl Knamm, 32, of Hamilton, when the fire broke out shortly before 5 a.m. They both died in the blaze.

Firefighters, arriving on the scene shortly after 5 a.m., couldn’t reach the couple because of the intensity of the flames they were met with as they pulled up.

Meanwhile, officers with the Hamilton Township Police Department, arriving on the scene moments before firefighters, managed to smash their way through a front window to rescue Jacqueline Preston, 59, and her husband, Thomas Preston, 60.

“It was an incredible amount of fire,” said Chief Adam Bendas with the Nottingham Fire Co. “We tried to send in interior crews but the fire was too much. We had to back out.

“It’s a feeling of helplessness knowing there’s people trapped but you can’t reach them because of the volume of the fire,” Bendas said. “Everything that could have been done was done.”

Responding to the scene moments before firefighters, patrolmen Thomas White and Nicholas Avanzato with the Hamilton Township Police Department heard two people yelling for help from a first-floor bedroom window.

Neighbors John and Lennie Griffiths said the officers smashed the window and managed to pull the two older Prestons to safety.

“I told the officers there were people inside and they started running towards the house,” John Griffiths said. “Those two officers on the scene, they were outstanding.”

Both elder Prestons were rushed to Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton. Thomas Preston, who authorities said suffered severe burns to the face, hands and arms, was airlifted to the burn unit at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.

He was listed in critical condition last night. Jacqueline Preston was listed in stable condition.

John Griffiths, who lives with his wife next door to the Preston home, said he was getting up for work shortly before 5 a.m. when he smelled burning plastic. After searching throughout his own home for the source of the smell, he looked out the window and saw flames in the sunroom of the family’s house.

He immediately called 911.

“Within minutes, that house was fully engulfed,” he said. After informing the authorities he said he and his wife fled, fearing that the flames, fanned by the wind, would spread to his own house.

“The heat was so intense, you couldn’t get anywhere near that house,” said Lennie Griffiths.

The heat melted the siding on the Griffiths’ house and caused several of their windows to crack.

The amount of flame that had already spread through the house forced firefighters to battle the blaze from outside the structure. According to Chief Bendas, the fire was brought under control after about 90 minutes.

Crews from all eight Hamilton fire companies were represented at the scene, along with units from the Robbinsville Fire Department and the Princeton Fire and Rescue Squad, authorities said. The fire appears to be accidental.

While authorities said the fire appears to have started in the house’s sunroom, the cause remains under investigation by Hamilton police along with the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.

Leaders of both agencies praised the work of patrolmen Avanzato and White.

“Tom White and Nick Avanzato are truly heroes,” said Mercer County Prosecutor Joe Bocchini and Hamilton Township Police Chief James Collins in a joint statement issued yesterday. “Their quick reaction and selflessly placing themselves in extreme danger saved the lives of two people today.”

Authorities asked anyone with information on the fire to contact Detective Martin Ingenbrandt with the Hamilton Township Police Department at (609) 581-4009, or Detective Gary Wasko with the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office at (609) 989-6429.

Contact Matt Fair at mfair@njtimes.com or at (609) 989-5707.

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