SEA ISLE CITY — The Corso family lost everything in the span of a few hours — a grandmother, a dog, a house.
“We are devastated,” said Caitlin Corso, of Ocean View.
Thursday morning, authorities received multiple 911 calls reporting flames and heavy smoke coming from a house on 54th Street between Landis and Pleasure avenues.
The fire claimed the life of Marie Zielinski, 89, as well as the family’s 2-year-old Labrador/pit bull mix, Manu.
Two other residents, Elizabeth Coleman, 56, and Roy Lombardo, 60, were injured during the fire and transported to Cape Regional Medical Center.
Three side-by-side duplexes with a total of six units were damaged by the fire and smoke. Fire crews worked quickly to protect neighboring homes on the block.
Friday morning, the dulled ring of one of the duplex’s smoke alarms hung constant in the cold morning air, keeping tempo as officials paced around the collapsed home and dug through the blackened debris.
One fire investigator with a black smudge across his nose and cheeks paused for a moment to clean his boots, stomping his feet into a small puddle at Landis Avenue and 54th Street.
Corso said eight family members, including her father, whom she did not identify, lived in the East 54th Street home.
Her father and four other family members, including Coleman and Lombardo, lived in the west unit of the duplex, Corso said. Zielinski and two other family members lived in the east unit.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Atlantic City Electric and South Jersey Gas representatives said there is no indication the fire was related to an electrical or natural gas explosion.
Jesus Suarez, 30, of Egg Harbor Township, was working on a house for Pittaluga Electric on 54th Street when he first saw flames and smoke and a woman running.
He then saw a man on the porch of the home that was on fire and knew he needed to help.
“So I ran to go get the guy off the first-floor balcony,” he said.
Suarez climbed up the post to reach the porch to rescue the man as the rest of his crew came with an extension ladder to help a woman trapped on the second floor.
Suarez then climbed to the second floor to help the woman who was trying to get her dog and put the fire out with a pitcher of water.
“I literally had to grab her and put her on the ladder to bring her down because she didn’t want to leave,” he said.
Suarez then had to save himself from the flames and black smoke, so he jumped from the top of the second floor.
Friday morning, Suarez returned to the scene and stood quietly behind the yellow tape. Wearing a thick red flannel, he had returned to his job running electricity in a house down the street. He wore brown work pants that hid a large bruise on his upper leg, he said, an injury he sustained by hitting the piling on his jump to safety.
One EMS personnel thanked him for his work, but Suarez hadn’t come for recognition. He’d taken his lunch break to see if he could get more information on the people he’d helped.
The Rev. Joseph Perreault of St. Joseph Catholic Church said parishioners were organizing a fundraising campaign to help the victims of the fire.
Chickee Flora, regent for the parish’s local chapter of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, said they are collecting gift cards to grocery stores, Walmart and pharmacies for the family.
“Everyone is anxious to help in any way,” she said.
According to Flora, Zielinski was a devoted member of the Catholic Daughters and was last seen at a group retreat Tuesday.
“She was a lovely woman,” Flora said.
The gift card donations are being collected at the St. Joseph Parish Center at 126 44th St.
Corso and Sea Isle City Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1963 are accepting clothing donations for the family.
Staff Writers Lauren Carroll and Colt Shaw contributed to this report.