(April 14 marks the 35th anniversary of the monstrous fire at Garden State Park race track in Cherry Hill. One of the first reporters on the scene was KYW’s Bill Roswell, who was then a reporter, photographer and news editor for the Suburban Newspaper Group.)
By Bill Roswell
CHERRY HILL, N.J. (CBS) – April 14, 1977. A sunny, cloudless Thursday, one of those warm days of spring that makes you glad to get outside and enjoy the weather.
I and the other reporters at the Suburban Newspaper Group spent most of the day out doing interviews and taking pictures for the following week’s editions. We returned late in the afternoon to the newsroom, where the windows looked out on the front entrance and grandstand of Garden State Park.
Around 4:15, we noticed a few puffs of gray smoke dotting the blue sky. We believed it was probably some fire off in the distance. But minutes later, we spotted flames leaping out of the grandstand roof.
Telephones in our office started ringing almost in unison, with each caller frantically reporting: “The race track’s on fire!!” The newspaper’s executive editor, Al Mattern, quickly flipped on the radio to KYW Newsradio and waited to hear the first broadcast reports on the blaze.