Even on the hottest of day 75-year-old Di Renna often apparently complained she was cold. Blood thinners caused her to frequently put on an overcoat when other people wore shorts and it is believed she may even has put on an electric heater than led to her death in a July - blaze.
Fire Chief Thomas Lynch said while the investigation is still underway as to the absolute cause of the fire that killed Di Renna, burned a firefighter and injured three neighbors, police and fire officials have ruled the fire an accident.
The fire fighter, Brian O'Sullivan has received treatment for burn at St. Barnabas Hospital burn unit and was scheduled to get additional treatment, though the burns were not considered life threatening.
Although reported elsewhere that Di Renna died while trapped in the blaze, Lynch said she had likely succumbed to smoke long before the fire engulfed her room.
"When we arrived our people tried to evaluate where she was in the building," Lynch said. "While we made every effort to rescue her, we knew we were likely involved in a recovery rather than a rescue."
Di Renna was taking a blood thinker and constantly complained of being cold. She apparently frequently wore an overcoat to keep warm and Lynch said the recovered body was dressed in an overcoat. Preliminary investigations also show that there was bedding in the area of the heater.
"This could have contributed to the fire," he said.
Lynch said evidence shows that the woman was recovered from an area that believed to be the source of the fire. Bette Jane apparently had nodded off or succumbed to the smoke long before the blaze broke out.
Lynch said evidence showed that the fire most likely smoldered for hours prior to breaking out into the dramatic blaze that gutted the Kennedy Boulevard building.
"It is our assessment that she probably died well before the fire alarm," he said. "We believe she succumbed well before the fire was reported possibly due to smoke since the fire must have been smoldering for some time before the alarm was sent."
Lynch said the fire was ruled accidental and that it may have been due to a heating element that was found in the room.
While the heater was melted, investigators found a wire that may have been the cause of the blaze.
In attempting to the rescue, O'Sullivan was burned and other fire fighters were nearly hurt as the fire blew out the windows in the three story buildings.
Lynch said the woman's daughter, Theresa Di Renna and her boyfriend, Patrick O'Keefe, living upstairs, were not home while the family living on the first floor escaped safely.
The firefighters received the first alarm at 9:16 p.m. and a rig out of the 16th Street fire house - three blocks away - arrived within two minutes.
"When they saw they had a significant fire the extra alarm was sounded and brought in extra people," Lynch said.
Firefighter O'Sullivan, 35, of Engine Co. 3, who received burns his neck, ears and hands, was initially treated at Bayonne Medical Center before being sent to Livingston for treatment at the St. Barnabas Hospital burn unit, where he is scheduled to return for follow up treatment.
The signs of the disaster remained visible for more than a week as police and fire barricades complete with tattered yellow "do not cross" tape flapping for their corners blocked the front of the building off. Soot from the intense smoke still stained the white door, although the recently installed yellow siding seemed relatively unscathed, the fire's impact most visible through the broken glass and tilted frames of the windows the fire had burst.
Although Theresa Di Renna and her boyfriend, Patrick O'Keefe, packed their own things from their apartment on the third floor a few days after the fire, signs of Bette Jane's life were still visible through some of the blackened windows, files of paper work probably bills still poking out of slots on a shelf.
The body of the fire feline victim was no longer visible. Wooden planks covered the garage door. A smoke-ruined mattress was rolled up and tied, placed for trash in the narrow alley along side the buildings.
The Fire apparently smoldered for hours before anyone noticed, one of those regrets that linger in the back Bette Jane's daughter, who was shopping at the time.
For Theresa and Patrick this was one more recent disaster. Workers in the pharmacy at Bayonne Medical Center said illness forced Theresa to take a leave of absence. A published report she had been diagnosis with ovarian cancer. The same newspaper account said Patrick had lost his father in Marsh and discovered his sister diagnosed with breast cancer recently.
The Hudson Bergen Chapter of the American Red Cross - that has an office in Bayonne - responded to the emergency by finding temporary housing at a North Bergen motel for the week following the fire.
The Red Cross, under the director of Hudson County Director, Francisco Guzman, stepped into the matter to provide assistance to the family once the circumstances were clear, said Henry Sanchez, who is a member of the local chapter
The Red Cross, Sanchez noted, provides assistance in such circumstances, and that Bayonne reopened a Red Cross office last year after many years without a local office.