HAZLET – It was a somber evening as hundreds heard a father recall his wife's sacrifice to unsuccessfully save their daughter from a house fire.

Hundreds gathered at Veterans Park in Hazlet to honor Jacqueline Montanaro who ran back into the burning house on Brookside Avenue to get their 6-year-old daughter Madelyn out. Both later died at a hospital.

"We care about each other here and tonight we stand together to support our neighbors, the Montanaros, who have experienced an unimaginable loss," Hazlet Mayor Michael Sachs told the crowd.

William Montanaro recalled how his wife insisted on going back into their burning home. He called Jackie, a Customs and Border Protection officer, the bravest person he ever knew.

READ MORE: Hazlet, NJ mom died a 'hero' trying to save daughter

"When I went in and I was engulfed in flames and black smoke and said we had to wait for first responders, my wife's first responder heart overtook everything and went back in," William Montanaro said.

He called Madelyn his wife's "mini" who had an infectious smile that made his daughter special.

Keep Jackie & Madelyn's memory alive

Madelyn's grandfather, Joe Autera, tearfully said that his daughter Jackie came into his life when she was 6 years old and captured his heart. He asked everyone to keep their memory alive.

"I ask do not let Jackie and Mady's chapter end here. Take forth all the good things you remember. Those who didn't know them personally speak to those who did. Introduce Jackie and Mady to the world. Make the difference that they no longer can," Autera said.

Speaking to reporters, Montanaro recalled being woken up by a fire alarm, heading to his basement, and seeing the circuit breaker box on fire.

"It took about 30 to 40 seconds from going from hazy smoke to very thick, dark, black smoke, to the point where I had to drop to the ground and crawl," he said.

Jacqueline Montanaro and daughter Madelyn. William Montanaro with Jacqueline. (via Instagram/Facebook)
(via Instagram/Facebook)

Final resting place

A GoFundMe for the family has raised over $305,000 from 4,000 donors as of Wednesday morning.

The viewing for Jackie and Madelyn Montanaro is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday at the Holmdel Funeral Home. Their funeral is Friday at St. Benedict’s Church in Holmdel.

The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office Wednesday morning said their investigation into the fire is ongoing although it is not considered suspicious.

Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com

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