Staring up at the blackened remains of his East Saddle River Road home Monday afternoon, Frank Cumbo fought back tears.
Cumbo still has much to be thankful for, however; his teenage children were in the two-story house when utility workers noticed smoke billowing from the roof at approximately 1:30 p.m.
Emily, 15, and John, 13, managed to escape with their dog before the fire's intensity grew. Within minutes, the fast-moving blaze had roared up from the garage and consumed the home.
Cumbo arrived home and watched the flames towering above its collapsing roof, rendering the home uninhabitable.
The family cat was also still unaccounted for.
As he watched from across the street, Ridgewood and Ho-Ho-Kus firefighters continued to fight the fire.
Suddenly, Ridgewood Firefighter Matthew Ramge emerged from the smoky remains of the home. A soaked and visibly distressed cat shook and clawed, attempting to free itself from Ramge's grip.
Cumbo, who along with his wife Karen had been at the work at the time of the fire, ran forward and retrieved the cat, Mr. Stitches, who was taken to Oradell Animal Hospital for evaluation.
There were no injuries reported in the blaze. The fire was placed under control within about 10 minutes.
"This is what makes it worthwhile," Ridgewood Fire Chief Jim Van Goor said. "We were able to get the people out and save their pets. This is the main reason we do the job — to save lives."
As the anguished family surveyed the damage and calculated their next move; few of their possessions remained, and temperatures were plummeting into the 30s.
Support was quick to come from neighbors, most of whom only received power back within the last 48 hours after Hurricane Sandy tore through the state last week.
Many opened up their homes and showed no hesitancy in offering clothing to help the Cumbo family stay warm and eventually rebuild.
The Cumbo family have only been residents for a few months, they moved to Ridgewood from Massachusetts in September.
"The neighbors have been just incredible," Frank Cumbo said at the scene. "We just moved here... we're so lucky to have neighbors that care."
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.