VENTNOR — Michelle Murphy woke up to her dog, Nucki, barking at the back door about 5 a.m. Saturday.

Confused, she opened the door to see what was going on.

“Everything was on fire,” Murphy said, standing outside about two hours later, a look of shock lingering on her face. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Murphy’s second-floor apartment in the three-story brick building in the 6500 block of Ventnor Avenue was destroyed in an early morning fire Saturday that also damaged neighboring structures.

She said she called 911 after escaping with Nucki.

Police cordoned off the street ends for three blocks around the scene of the fire, and nearby residents were evacuated from their homes, while others came out to survey the damage.

Michele DiNoto, who lives above a nail shop on the corner of the block where the fire took place, said her fiance woke her up to alert her of the blaze.

“I came running down the street,” DiNoto said, but she only saw smoke as firefighters had the fire almost out by 7 a.m.

When DiNoto saw Murphy walk by, she gave her a hug. Murphy said she did not grab any belongings before running out of her home Saturday morning. She said her first thought was, “Get out.”

“Thank God for Nucki,” DiNoto said.

Fire Chief Mike Cahill said that when he arrived at the scene, the flames were shooting 30 feet out of the backside of the building, where he said the fire likely began. The top and bottom floors were vacant, and Murphy had evacuated herself.

Responders were lucky no one was inside, Cahill said, but the fire was especially challenging because of the close proximity of the neighboring buildings. He pointed to a piece of dangling flashing where the roof actually hung over the building that houses Quest Diagnostics next door.

“On arrival, I made it a defensive fire and struck a third alarm,” Cahill said, allowing for more mutual aid to assist.

Eighty to 90 other firefighters from Atlantic City, Longport, Brigantine, Margate and Pleasantville responded to assist the eight on duty in the third platoon under the direction of Lt. Thomas Grimley.

Cahill said there were about 70 firefighters on the scene throughout the morning and no reported injuries.

He said utility companies also responded “under arduous conditions” to shut off the power and gas in the area.

Cahill estimated it took 50,000 gallons of water to quell the flames.

Investigators arrived by 7 a.m. Cahill said they believe the fire may have started on the third floor.

Ventnor Commissioner Lance Landgraf came to the scene Saturday morning with his dog.

“We’re trying to get the street open,” he said. “We have businesses here that serve breakfast, and they want to open up.”

Police Chief Doug Biagi, whose officers were directing cars, said police were developing a traffic plan with public safety in mind first, but also to allow area businesses to operate.

Biagi said he was unsure how long the street would be closed in the area.

An alert sent out shortly after by police said the 6500 block of Ventnor Avenue between Newport and New Haven avenues will be closed until further notice and to find alternate routes.

Biagi said the building will likely be demolished.

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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