HAZLET, N.J. (WABC) – An emotional vigil was held Tuesday night to honor the memory of a mother and daughter who died in a house fire in New Jersey.

Amidst the glow of countless candles, the small town of Hazlet mourned.

“The moment my daughter died, my wife was standing in heaven with her arms outstretched telling her to come to mommy,” Will Montanaro said.

They were grieving with a father and husband who lost his wife Jackie and 6-year-old daughter Madeline.

The family was torn apart by a burst of heat and flames that showed no mercy.

“My wife and I were asleep and the alarm went off,” Will Montanaro said. “I came down the stairs and saw my electrical box on fire. I’ve never seen a fire like that in my life.”

The the fire started before dawn on Friday. Will Montanaro cleared the way for Jackie and their two daughters, Madeline and Elena, but Madeline never made it.

Will Montanaro tried to return to the house, but the suffocating smoke drove him out.

“Obviously, I’m a father, my job is to protect my children, and when I realized that I couldn’t go any further, I told my wife, that’s it, we have to wait, there’s no way in hell we’re going to get into this house,” he said. And she just looked at me and didn’t want to hear it and just ran back to that house.”

Jackie Montanaro was a federal first responder, a senior officer with Customs and Border Protection. Her instinct was to save their daughter. But Will Montanaro would never see them alive again.

“We care about each other here, and tonight we are coming together to support our Montana neighbors who have suffered an unimaginable loss,” Hazlett Mayor Michael Sachs said.

After the tragedy, neighbors collected more than a quarter of a million dollars to help Will Montanaro and his eldest daughter Elena.

Now it’s just the two of them to preserve their family’s legacy.

“I keep going over in my head what I could have done differently, I just pray to God that no one ever has to deal with what I’ve dealt with and what I’ve seen,” said Will Montanaro.

The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office is now trying to get to the bottom of this tragedy.

They say the fire does not appear to be suspicious, but they have not released anything about a potential cause.

Arrangements have been made for Jackie and Madeline Montanaro.

Viewings will be held this week on Wednesday and Thursday from 4pm to 8pm at Holmdel Funeral Home.

The funeral will take place in the church of St. Benedict RC in Holmdel on Friday at 10am

READ ALSO | The NTSB is investigating the near-collision of two passenger planes at JFK


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