HOPATCONG - High winds in northern New Jersey claimed the life of a Hopatcong man as he was sitting in his home Thursday. 

Frederick Dalton, 74, was sitting in a chair in his second-floor living room when a tree came crashing through the house.

"I was inside the house and heard the crash," says neighbor James Beeh.  "My son and I went over to try to save him. We knew he was home by himself."

Hopatcong police responded to the scene, but couldn't get to Dalton fast enough. The massive tree split the house in half.

Officers used a ladder to climb through a second-story window at the back of the house. 

Lt. Thomas Kmetz says the scene was difficult to take in. "We searched for the victim and found him under the debris of the roof and the tree," he says. "His legs were sticking out. It was horrible. I've been here 23 years and I've never seen anything like it."

A small fire also erupted from a kerosene lamp. Officers were able to put it out using an extinguisher from their patrol car.  

One officer was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation.  

It took several hours for responders to cut up the tree so crews could get to Dalton.

Dalton's wife was at work when the accident happened. Rescuers were able to save two dogs from inside the house.

Neighbors hope the tragedy is a reminder to homeowners to cut down trees that could come down in future storms.