SOMERVILLE – A multi-alarm fire Friday morning severely damaged an unoccupied building in the Somerville Parc Apartments complex on James Street.
The fire appeared to have started in the attic of the four-story building off Fairview Avenue next to the NJ Transit railroad tracks.
About 9:15 a.m., a patrol officer saw smoke and flames coming from the roof of the construction site on Parkview Avenue, a new street in the development, Mayor Dennis Sullivan said.
Workmen were on the site at that time, the mayor indicated. The building was scheduled to be completed in late September or early October.
He said the construction site is part of a two-building complex, each with about 80 units. He said the western building had been completed for about a month and has tenants living there. The eastern building, which was still under construction and weeks from being completed, with many of the complex's amenities, caught fire.
He said residents were evacuated from the occupied building as mutual aid was called to the scene as the fire grew to four alarms. Sullivan said residents will be allowed to return home once the area is deemed safe.
Fire departments from at least six neighboring towns responded. The Somerset County Emergency Mobile Command Center also responded.
Sullivan said firefighters stopped putting water on the fire about 2:30 p.m. but were continuing to monitor the area for hot spots.
He said no injuries were reported to residents, firefighters or rescue squad personnel.
"'There is significant property damage to be determined," Sullivan said, adding the fire marshal was on site, along with the fire chief, office of emergency management coordinator and construction code personnel.
Aerial photos posted to social media showed significant damage to the upper floors of the building, but Sullivan is unsure how much water damage also was caused by fighting the fire.
"It's my understanding that the next step, once the structure is deemed out and safe to be explored, then the investigators will come in to try to determine the cause of the blaze," Sullivan said.
Sullivan praised the response of the firefighters from Somerville and neighboring towns.
"It's community with a capital C," Sullivan said. "We had responded to Bound Brook when they had their big structure fire and it was nice to see them doing the same for us. Communities like ours rely on our neighbors and we all pay it forward. I couldn't be prouder or our response and the fact all the people there that geared up are all volunteers."
He said the firefighters are well-trained, highly motivated, skilled and take pride in what they do.
"That training came in handy today," Sullivan said. "They responded and they will be going home feeling proud of their work. Stuff can be rebuilt."
Sullivan said if the new building needs to be demolished, it can be rebuilt, and the borough's construction code officers will work with the owners. But right now, it's premature to guess what will need to be done.
"It's just a shame that less than six weeks away from the complete opening of the site they are going to have to regroup. But I'm confident in the developer and he has confidence in the town, and I look forward to having everybody back for a positive event in the near future," Sullivan said.
He said the building under construction was to include the pool, fitness center, indoor dog park along with rental apartments. The first building, which has been completed, only houses rental units and some common space, the mayor said.
Sullivan said the project's completion is now up in the air because it has yet to be determined if the building is salvageable.
During the fire, traffic was detoured off East Main Street by Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset as firefighters stretched their lines to hydrants.
At least two TV news helicopters hovered over the scene.
Earlier this summer the first phase of the apartment community opened.
The first phase of the community built on the former Litgo faculty site, which once housed an iron works, houses 88 one- and two-bedroom units.
"It's was an old industrial site and it had its share of fires over the years when it was used for industrial purposes," Sullivan said. "It's a site that sorely needed redevelopment for most of the 40 years I've lived here. We've worked with a number of potential builders over the years to get it cleaned up to the point where you could put people there.”
He said the developer was extremely diligent in getting the site cleaned up to reclaim a dangerous site and make it habitable for future families.
"It was a show piece," Sullivan said. "I was excited to cut the final ribbon and have families moving in. It was a blighted area in need of redevelopment for probably a half century and we were this close to having it fully occupied and it's bittersweet."
"It's a bump in the road but it's not an insurmountable hurdle," Sullivan said.
The complex is considered a pet-friendly, resort-style community with amenities such electric vehicle charging stations, dog park and dog-washing stations, concierge and package service, and a work lounge.
The complex also features a fitness center with treadmills, spin bikes, ellipticals, weight machines and full training station, along with a year-round swim spa and game room.
The second phase, which was slated to open in the fall, will have 92 units. It's unclear if the fire will impact the opening of phase two.
Somerville Parc features four different housing models with prices ranging from $1,950 a month for a one-bedroom unit to $2,225 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. Apartments are equipped with a washer, dryer, dishwasher and a microwave. Kitchens have quartz countertops.
The apartment community is in the southeastern corner of the borough next to the NJ Transit tracks.