When Carmen Ramos returned to the Comfort Inn on Route 35 in Middletown Sunday night, she saw fire trucks rolling out of the parking lot.
When she pulled up outside her ground floor room, she was stunned to see the plate glass wall shattered, and the bed and furniture inside blackened by smoke and soaked by water.
"What happened?!" asked Ramos, a FEMA worker from Kissimmee, Florida who has been working in Lincroft since November. "Oh gosh!" she said.
A fire in her room set off an alarm at 5:32 p.m. and drew firefighters from four township fire companies and three first aid squads.
Nobody was injured, and the fire was contained and under control by 5:59 p.m. The smoke from the fire could be detected as far away as Sears, north on Route 35, in the unseasonably warm January night, and one southbound lane of Route 35 near Woodland Avenue was closed for a time.
The cause of the fire is under investigation by the township's Office of the Fire Marshal, which may be looking at a melted coffee pot, which was situated next to a box of tissues.
"It has to be that coffee pot," Ramos said. She added that the hotel's coffee pot was plugged in, but "off" when she left. She said he had meant to unplug it. "Sometimes it would go on, by itself," said Ramos.
Her belongings had been salvaged from the room and awaited her in the main office.
Chief John D'Altilio said that firefighters had a little trouble at first finding the fire. "The panel said it was Room 106, but it was in Room 116," he said.
The firefighters also had to acquire a master key to start opening up the locked rooms, said Public Information Officer Andy Spears.
Responding to the fire were Middletown No. 1, River Plaza, Belford Independent and Old Village companies, as well as the Air Unit, which refills air cylinders.
First Aid squads from Middletown, Port Monmouth and Leonardo were also on the scene.
Middletown's emergency service workers have had a busy week or so. On Jan. 8 they turned out to contain a potentially dangerous blaze in the Belford reeds, then on Jan. 11 they extinguished a house fire on Cherry Tree Farm Road. And now, this fire Sunday night. "It's not typical," said D'Altilio. "And I hope it ends soon."
Ramos, who has seen her share of misfortune as a FEMA worker helping victims of Superstorm Sandy, was sanguine about how Sunday night's turn of events will affect her clothes, personal computer and nerves.
"We just have to keep on going," she said.
And in the future, when going out, she said, "Make sure everything is unplugged."