VENTNOR – Just days after she was burned out of her Ventnor Avenue apartment, a Ventnor woman said she is overwhelmed by the warmth complete strangers have shown her. Michelle Murphy, 31, who grew up in Ventnor, was awakened at 5 a.m. Saturday, July 13 by her dog Nucki, a 4-year-old pitbull, who paced back and forth between her bedroom and the back door and barked uncontrollably until she woke up.
“I opened the back door and saw fire coming from the third-floor stairwell. I slammed the door shut, grabbed my phone, called 9-1-1 and got Nucki out the front door,” Murphy said.
She then ran back up the front stairs to her second-floor rear apartment to put on some clothes and ran out of the building as firefighters were arriving.
“By then, all the first responders were there yelling for me to get out of there,” she said.
Murphy said she has no idea how or where the fire started, just that she is grateful that with Nucki’s insistence, they both got out safely. No one was injured in the blaze, which spread quickly throughout the building.
She was not the only tenant of the three-story investment property owned by Margate real estate broker D.J. Gluck. His insurance adjuster was on the scene Saturday afternoon after the fire was extinguished and the building was waiting to be razed. A call to Gluck was not returned.
According to Fire Chief Michael Cahill, the cause of the fire is under investigation, but what was known at the time is that it was in danger of collapsing and damaging adjacent properties, so it had to be demolished.
Adjacent properties had smoke and water damage.
Police Chief Doug Biagi Monday morning said Ventnor Avenue would be closed to vehicular traffic while the site is being cleared, but businesses along the busy street are open.
A second tenant was rendered homeless during the fire. Jose Fontenez Cotto, who according to India Warren, the person who set up a GoFundMe page to help him deal with the aftermath of the fire, has been a tenant in the building for the last 20 years. He was at work when the fire happened.
“He was always working,” Murphy said. “I only saw him about five times in the two years I’ve lived here.”
The American Red Cross assisted them, she said.
“They gave me a packet of information with resources that are available and a small amount of funds to help me for a few days,” Murphy said.
Although she was not allowed back into the building, Cahill offered to retrieve several dresser drawers, she said. One was filled with underwear and sweats, and other contained all her important papers, including family photos, Nucki’s records and her birth certificate.
A friend took all the photos, including those of her mother who passed away several years ago, dried them out and put them together neatly. Another friend brought her to her boyfriend’s house in Northfield, where she will stay for the next several weeks.
“He was looking to rent out the room anyway, so it worked out for me,” she said.
Nevertheless, she wants to find a place in Ventnor, where she grew up and attended the public schools.
“This is my home,” she said.
Murphy, a cosmetologist at Borgata Hotel Casino, said she has taken the week off to get her life in order, and will return to work next Saturday. In the meantime, friends have set up a GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $1,000 since Saturday.
“I’m blown away by how much the community is helping me,” she said. “They don’t even know me and they are helping me with clothes, and donating dog food for Nucki. I’ve never experienced such a strong community feeling. It’s beautiful.”
As soon as she lands on her feet, her first task will be to replace her vehicle, which was totaled a few weeks ago when someone ran a stop sign and crashed into the back of her car, she said.
“I can stay where I am for a couple of months, but I want to go back to Ventnor,” she said. “But first I need to get a car so I can get back and forth to work.”