Senior complex fire forces Thanksgiving evacuations in cold

Posted: Updated:
TOMS RIVER -

Seniors escaped a Thanksgiving morning fire at a high-rise in Toms River -- and that was before health officials ordered the complex evacuated again in the afternoon.

The fire broke out around 7 a.m. in a fourth-floor apartment at Highland Plaza. Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher says the resident of the apartment was smoking while using an oxygen tank. There was a heavy smoke condition, and some residents suffered smoke inhalation.

At first, residents were bused to Tom's River High School South, and then taken back to the complex. But just before 1 p.m., first responders were called back to start the second exodus when the building was declared unsafe.

The last bus left the complex around 4 p.m. with the last of the seniors who had returned home after the fire. But management was still making calls to reach residents who stayed over with family Thanksgiving eve and didn't know what happened back home.

The cleanup is well underway at the five-story building. Servpro workers were loading out water-damaged ceiling pieces in trash bags through the afternoon.

Seniors were packing up clothes and medicine throughout the afternoon and getting rides from family members to stay overnight.

News 12 is told that about 45 residents will be staying for the next few nights at the Howard Johnson's hotel in town. The cost of the rooms will be paid for by the California-based management firm's insurance company.

The complex's 110 residents will likely be out of their homes until Monday.

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