Fire That Killed New Jersey Deputy Chief Believed to Be Accident

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) -- The blaze that killed a deputy fire chief does not appear to have been set intentionally, but was fueled by at least one of the three illegal propane tanks in the house, police said Thursday.

Police charged a first-floor tenant with storing the tanks and cooking equipment in the residence, using a residence to operate a food service business and obstructing or delaying the fire investigation.

Deputy Chief James D'heron died immediately from exposure to high temperatures during the Sept. 3 fire, according to an autopsy by the Middlesex County Medical Examiner's office, police said.

D'heron, 51, was the first firefighter on the scene, and rushed alone into the burning home and alerted residents to flee, officials said.

Thirteen adults and two children escaped safely from the building, and no other firefighters were hurt, authorities said. Six other residents were not at home.

D'heron, who was not wearing protective gear or breathing gear, was found on a second-floor landing by fellow firefighters.

Preliminary results of the investigation showed that the fire began in the first-floor hallway of the two-family dwelling, police said.

The fire caused pressure to rise in at least one of the propane tanks, leading to a gas leak from a safety valve. The released gas ignited, sending a fireball that filled the hallway and stairwell, police said.

D'heron was believed to be at the top of the stairs at the time, police Sgt. Richard P. Rowe said.

The accused tenant, Nannette Baretto, faces three violations of the state fire code, with potential fines totaling $12,500.

The obstruction charge stems from her not immediately admitting that the cooking equipment was hers, he said. The equipment is not believed to be the source of the fire, Rowe said.

She could not be reached for comment. The dwelling is not habitable and police did not know if she had retained a lawyer, Rowe said.

Some 21 people lived at the house because of illegal subletting, Rowe said.

The house was owned by Victor DeFilippo, a New Brunswick police sergeant, who did not live there.

``He was unaware of the equipment and the subletting,'' Rowe said.

DeFilippo continues to cooperate in the investigation and remains on active duty, Rowe said.