The fire was sudden, and it spread quickly.
“My father and sister had gone to the store, and they were only out for 10 minutes,” Ed Hale Jr. recalled. “While they were out, my (other) sister had called them and said ‘Your house is on fire.’”
Ed Hale Jr.’s two sisters and parents all live in separate houses on West End Avenue. While they were unsure whose house was on fire with that initial phone call, it didn’t change the fact that there someone’s home was ablaze that could be seen down the road.
When the first firefighters arrived at the Ed Hale Sr.’s house at 1:28 p.m. on Monday, March 22, the house was engulfed in flames.
Though neither Ed Sr. nor his wife April Hale had been home at the time, their pets, two dogs and a cat, were still inside the house. The fire was so large that two nearby neighbors were evacuated and multiple fire departments came to assist, including the Cherry Hill, Laurel Springs and West Berlin fire departments.
“The neighbors were around 75 feet away,” Voorhees Fire Department Deputy Chief James Poland elaborated. “They were evacuated as a safety precaution, and we had to use a smaller hose than what we were using to cool that property off to make sure it didn’t go into an open flame and that nothing in the wall caught fire.”
Around 30 to 40 minutes later, the fire was contained. The deputy chief said this means that even though the fire is still burning, it’s not spreading to the point of needing more resources.
“What they had there was enough to control the scene,” Poland explained.
The last crew didn’t leave until 8 p.m. The fire had been extinguished, but the house was damaged beyond repair. The deputy chief said that it was so severe that a demolition company was called in to knock it down because it threatened to collapse and fall. The house was gone, and their pets were also unable to be saved.
“We were told not to touch anything. We can’t clean it up, and we can’t look for anything, so it’s just a waiting game at this point,” Ed Jr. said.
According to a 2019 booklet from the U.S. Fire Administration, the first thing one should do after a fire burns their house down is call their insurance agent. (The guide can be found at https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/fa_46.pdf.) Home insurance can cover the cost of rebuilding the physical structure, lost belongings that were in the house like clothes and furniture, and providing housing until the owner’s house can be rebuilt.
The Voorhees Fire Department uses the Red Cross as a resource for families who have lost their homes to fires. The Hale family has been able to stay with relatives nearby.
Days later, the county fire marshal’s investigation determined that the cause of the fire was accidental.
As news of the fire began to spread through social media, the community rallied around the township family. Rebecca McGuckin, a relative of the Hales, started a GoFundMe campaign that currently has more than $19,000 in donations. On the crowdfunding page, McGuckin discusses what the Hales have done for the community; Ed Hale is a retired Voorhees police officer, and April is a nurse at a local school.
Ed Hale Jr. and his family are grateful for the support.
“Ashland is a cool place because everybody actually cares about one another,” said Ed Jr. “They take the time to stop and learn and talk to people. And it’s just always been like that. “
For those who would like to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign, visit www.gofundme.com/f/house-firehelp-the-hale-family-rebuild-their-home.