Esther Utkewicz, an elderly resident of Bloomfield, died from smoke inhalation in a house fire on Haines Street tuesday morning, Bloomfield Fire Department and County officials said.
Bloomfield fire official Samuel Infante said the fire started in the basement and was likely caused by an unattended cigarette burning into a couch. The Essex County Prosecutor's office said the investigation is active and ongoing.
Infante said several neighbors of the two-story house near the border of Brookdale Park called in the fire, reporting smoke rising from throughout the house.
Firefighters were able to contain the basement fire in about 20 minutes but stayed on site to check for extensions throughout the house for several hours.
Firefighters reportedly found 75-year-old Utkewicz unconscious in her wheelchair near the front door. Emergency medical staff tried to revive on her in the front yard of the house but where not successful. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Her son, James Utkewicz, 44, was found on the second floor during the fire and was brought to Mountainside Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Infante said he was in critical condition.
Infante said the house was rendered uninhabitable due to the proximity of the furnace to the site of the fire.
The woman and her son were the only people home at the time of the fire. The woman’s caregiver showed while firefighters were there. Infante said emergency responders notified the woman’s son in law and grandson about her death.
Infante said that there was no smoke alarm on the first floor and that the presence of an alarm on that floor could have saved the victim’s life. In addition, he added that the fire never would have started if the residents hadn’t smoked cigarettes.
“Just quit smoking,” Infante said. “Those things are deadly. It’s going to keep fire departments across the country in business.”