MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — A Rio Grande man was killed early Friday morning by a house fire that investigators traced to an unattended kitchen stove.

Phillip Padilla, 51, was found as volunteer firefighters from Rio Grande and Green Creek battled the blaze at Route 9 and King Street.

A Middle Township police officer discovered the fire during a routine patrol and called firefighters at 1:59 a.m. Rio Grande Fire Chief Richard Sweeten said about 50 firefighters responded.

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“The right front corner was heavily involved in fire. Units made entry, and one victim was found in the building, deceased,” Sweeten said.

The body was removed from the building, but attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful, he said.

The temperature was 12 degrees when firefighters arrived. Icicles hung from the heavily damaged building Friday afternoon. Sweeten said the first unit in the home, where Padilla was staying, was destroyed, but two other units sustained only water damage.

An investigation by the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, Middle Township police and the county Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire originated in the kitchen. It was ruled accidental due to unattended cooking, officials said.

Padilla was taken to Cape Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy was conducted at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point.

Authorities said the building was owned by a relative of Padilla. George Karavangelos, a King Street neighbor, said he often saw Padilla working “real hard” on the property. He said the other two units had been rented at one time under subsidized (Section 8) rentals but the owners had “finally got them out of there.”

Karavangelos said he sleeps with earplugs and slept through the blaze.

“Maybe if I was awake I could have helped the guy. I had no idea until I woke up,” he said.

Firefighters sometimes know they have a person inside a burning structure by talking to neighbors. Sweeten said they did not know about Padilla until they found him. He said his crew handled it well.

Contact Richard Degener:


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