A rescue search turned into a recovery operation Friday in Morris Township.
Robert Ricciardi87-year-old co-founder of the Ricciardi Brothers chain of paint stores, and his wife Gem85, died in a fire overnight at their Normandy Heights Road estate, a relative has confirmed.
Godson of the couple, Tommy Casanolalooked stunned as he left the premises on Friday afternoon.
“I have no words to say, except they were the two greatest people in the world, and they don’t make people like that anymore,” Casanola said. “They will be in my heart forever. Mr. and Mrs. Ricciardi were the nicest people in the world. That’s all I can say. The greatest of all.
The 3 a.m. fire was so intense it was reported by pilots flying overhead, the Morris County prosecutor said. Robert Carroll said one press conference.
In a later statement, the prosecutor’s office said investigators were continuing their research into “the potential recovery of victims, and the cause and origin of hell.”
Helicopter images of News12 and ABC7 showed the collapsed roof in the house.
In the early hours of the morning, “repeated efforts by firefighters to enter the burning structure to search for victims were unsuccessful due to the scale of the fire,” the prosecutor said.
Township Fire Chief Michael Nunn referred all questions to the prosecutor’s office.
“It is an ongoing investigation. We are still working on the scene,” Nunn said Friday morning.
Authorities closed Normandy Heights Road to through traffic while the investigation continues; at 5:43 p.m. they said it was reopened. The Morris County Sheriff’s Office and Morris Township and Chatham Police were among the law enforcement personnel at the site.
In 1970, Robert Ricciardi and his brother Walter took over the reins of a family business which started in Newark in 1929.
Robert and Walter opened their Ricciardi Brothers paint store in Maplewood. They’ve expanded the business to 43 locations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, according to the company’s website.
The mood was somber Friday at the Morristown store on South Street.
“He was a good old man” who passed regularly, says an employee, who did not wish to give his name.
The former neighbor of the Ricciardis, member of the committee of the township of Morris Peter Mancuso, suffocated when he learned of the couple’s passing.
Gemma “was one of the nicest women in the world”, and Bob was gregarious and outgoing, “the kind of guy you could call up anytime and say, ‘I need a friend to talk to, I need something done,” and he ‘I’ll be there for you,'” Mancuso said.
Robert Ricciardi was administrator of the Morris Museuma few steps from his house.
“The Morris Museum is deeply saddened to hear this terrible news, and we send our best wishes to his family and friends, and to the entire Ricciardi painting business,” said Messenger Brett Wellmancurator of the living arts of the museum.
The galleries must be repainted after each exhibition, and Ricciardi donated the paint, a hugely helpful gift, Messenger said.
Robert Ricciardi was also fond of classic cars, a mechanical fascination that may have explained his support for the museum’s acquisition of the Murtogh D. Guinness collection of mechanical musical instruments and automata, said Steven Millerdirector emeritus of the museum.
“He was a model administrator, generous with his time, advice, resources and enthusiasm. He and Gemma have always participated in all of our important events, programs and activities,” said Miller, who led the museum from 2001 to 2010.
“The loss of Bob and Gemma is a tragedy for the Morris area in so many ways. They were valued philanthropists for more than the Morris Museum. My wife Jane and I were shocked to learn of this loss and we send our deepest sincere condolences to the family,” he said.