Union City Mayor Brian Stack and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office are asking all Union City residents to keep an eye out for any information that may lead to the arrest of the people setting the fires that have been plaguing Union City since Dec. 2.
“Union City as a community has come together so many times before to solve problems,” said Stack, who is asking that the community do so again to help find the arsonists.
“I want to keep 70,000 people with their eyes and ears open,” he said. “It is time to pay attention. We have the best chance of catching whoever is responsible if the residents are aware.”
Stack has also raised the amount of the reward he is offering for information leading to the arrest of the suspected arsonist from $5,000 to $10,000.
Chief of Investigators for the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Daniel Gibney is confident that Union City’s residents are alert. “People are very aware of the shortcomings in their own security systems,” said Gibney. “They are on heightened alert, which is very good. That is the number one deterrent of crime.”
A string of fires
The latest suspicious fire was at 910 Summit Ave. on Jan.1 at approximately 4 a.m.
This fire began in the second floor stairwell landing and caused “heavy structural damage” to the apartments on the second and third floors, according to Battalion Chief Michael Falco.
The fire also spread and damaged apartments at 908 and 912 Summit Ave.
This four-alarm fire was deemed suspicious in origin and is also being investigated by the Union City Police Department and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.
According to Falco, the fire was seen as suspicious because it was set in the hallway and some of the previous fires in the city that were confirmed as arson were set in a similar way. One of those fires was at 10th Street and Summit Avenue, which started in a second floor cockloft.
That fire came after the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue firefighters responded to three four-alarm fires, all at approximately 4 a.m. on Dec. 2, within an eight-block area.
The fires started at 1016 Summit Ave. and spread to five two-story apartment buildings and first level businesses, 604 10th St. and 420 13th St., both residential properties.
Following the Dec. 2 fires, Union City Deputy Chief Leonard Wolpert said that the fire on Summit Avenue appeared to have started in an upstairs cockloft. The fire on 13th Street appears to have started in a mattress alongside the building, and the 10th Street fire seems to have started on the front porch.
While Union City Police Officers continued to investigate the series, a fire on 48th Street diverted North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue’s attentions Dec. 5. This fire, which took place in a rooming house, was considered accidental and not connected to the three fires earlier in the week.
Since then, three other fires, one on Seventh Street and Central Avenue, another on 46th Street, and a last one on 11th Street, were not deemed suspicious and are not under investigation for arson.
So far the Brian P. Stack Civic Association has had to relocate approximately 80 families because of these fires, said Stack, adding that the association still has five families to relocate.
If anyone wishes to donate money to help with relocation costs for the families, a check can be sent to City Hall at 3715 Palisade Ave., care of the treasurer. All checks should be made out to Union City Fire Victims Fund.
Last month, three people were arrested in Weehawken and charged with arson for a car fire. Officials from the prosecutor’s office, as well as local officials, will not confirm or deny rumors that at least one of these people is being looked at as a suspect in the Union City arsons.
Raymond Hayde, 38, and his brother Damien Smarsch, 23, of Union City, and Eyismery Areanas Ocanto, 20, of North Bergen were charged with arson in the December car blaze. Hayde and Smarsch were both released after posting $25,000 each in bail. Ocanto is still being held and her bail is set at $75,000.
“You can rest assured that we are looking [for a connection],” said Gibney. “If there is some connection, we’ll find it.”
Anyone with information regarding individuals responsible for the fires can call Stack’s office at (201) 348-5757 and ask for Lieutenant Joseph Blaettler.