Cape Fire
Dale Gerhard

CAPE MAY — A local man who survived a fire almost two years ago at the Merion Inn Restaurant on Decatur Street perished in a second fire Tuesday morning at his Washington Street apartment.

Erik Watson, 54, was dead by the time firefighters forced their way into the smoke-filled apartment early Tuesday morning.

“It’s a shame. This one was a little too much and he couldn’t get out,” said Fire Chief Jerry Inderwies Jr.

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A joint investigation by the Cape May Police Department along with the Cape May County Fire Marshal’s Office and Prosecutor’s Office has determined the fire was accidental with its likely origin at an electric stove.

Watson was rescued by firefighters on the morning of Dec. 23, 2010, from his apartment above the Merion Inn, a restaurant owned by his sister Victoria Watson. He was pulled from a second-floor window and taken to the Temple Burn Center in Philadelphia with second degree burns and smoke inhalation damage to his lungs.

That apartment is still undergoing renovations and Watson was living in a two-room cottage behind a house in the 1200 block of Washington Street.

Early Tuesday morning, when the first sunlight was just starting to appear in the eastern sky, a neighbor smelled smoke. The Cape May Fire Department got the alarm at 6:32 a.m. and responded along with firefighters from Coast Guard Training Center Cape May.

“A neighbor said smoke was coming from the rear cottage and there was possibly someone in there,” said Inderwies.

Three firefighters made it in wearing air packs and with a charged hose line. Inderwies said it only took about 100 gallons of water, all from the fire engine, not a hydrant, to put the fire out. The investigation is pointing to an electric stove. Inderwies said the efficiency unit only included two rooms, a bedroom and a living room with kitchen equipment.

“If you look at the statistics, most house fires start in the kitchen,” said Inderwies. “It’s still under investigation but it doesn’t appear to be suspicious at this time. It appears to be accidental.”

Inderwies said the unit suffered interior but no exterior damages.

Washington Street was blocked off most of the morning between East Street and Sidney Avenue. The body was removed just before 10 a.m. A joint release issued by Police Chief Diane Sorantino and County Prosecutor Robert Taylor on Tuesday afternoon said an autopsy was performed and the manner of death was ruled accidental. The exact cause of death is pending toxicology results.

The 2010 fire was traced to a couch in Watson’s apartment. There was speculation that a cigarette sparked the blaze, which closed the 1885 restaurant for less than one week, but Inderwies said this was never proven.

“It started in a couch. We never had any official determination. It was ruled accidental and not suspicious,” he said.

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