MORRIS TOWNSHIP — An elderly couple were missing and presumed dead after their home was destroyed by an early-morning fire, Morris County Prosecutor Robert Carroll said on Friday.
Authorities were still searching for Robert Ricciardi, 87, and his wife Gemma, 85, after the blaze on Normandy Heights Road, but feared the worst, Carroll said at a news conference outside the remains of the home, a 128-year-old property in the town's historic district. County Sheriff Jim Gannon, contacted at 3:30 p.m., said the couple still had not been located.
"We have a very significant fire here, beyond a total loss," Carroll said. He later added, "We don't give up hope until we have to, but at this point, it appears that we'll be in a recovery operation."
Carroll called the fire a "major blaze," so large that it was called in by airline pilots passing overhead. The fire was reported at approximately 2:55 a.m. Friday, he said. The cause was still under investigation.
Police placed a barrier at the intersection of Normandy Heights Road and Woodruff Road early Friday to discourage traffic into the neighborhood. Farther up the street, past Pond Hill Road, emergency vehicles and caution tape prevented any members of the public from getting closer to the house.
Neighbors around the scene said they were awakened early in the morning by the sound of sirens blaring and saw flames above the tree level. They also recalled the friendly nature of the Ricciardis when seeing them in the neighborhood.
Morris Township Police Chief Robert Shearer called the fire a "very unfortunate incident," and both he and Gannon highlighted the efforts of first responders battling it.
"We're just thankful that fire, EMS and police were able to quickly respond and ultimately get the blaze under control, and now we've just moved on to the investigating phase," Shearer said.
Gannon said the multi-agency investigation will likely take some time to complete, and officials will keep the public updated "as new developments arrive in this case."
The home was built in 1894, according to tax records, and is part of Morris Township's Normandy Park Historic District. The original development included houses set far back from the street and "attracted affluent people who preferred a neighborhood environment to the isolation of a large estate," according to the park website.
Kyle Morel is a local reporter covering Morris and Sussex counties. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @KMorelNJH
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Elderly Morris NJ couple feared dead after house fire