Winds, Frigid Temperatures Complicate Cliffside Park (NJ) Fire

Story and photos by Ron Jeffers

Strong winds, sub-freezing temperatures, and flames racing through an open wood-frame shell of a four-story building under construction combined for a Murphy’s Law evening for firefighters in Cliffside Park, New Jersey.

Local firefighters were dispatched to Walker Street around 5:30 p.m. for a report of a fire on the top floor of a building under construction. As Firefighter Frank Poerio pulled out of fire headquarters and tuned right, there was a huge red glow in the sky. Flames were consuming the third and forth floor areas of a large multi-unit dwelling under construction. Propane tanks were believed to be on site. Battalion Chief Martone called for a second alarm which was followed by a third by order of Deputy Chief Tarabokija.

Neighborhood residents said they heard two loud explosions and when they looked out their windows they saw the top of the building that was under construction fully involved in fire. Due to the high winds, there was a severe ember condition, as well as large chunks of burning building material falling to the street. Utility poles and a parked auto caught fire.

In bordering Hudson County, the North Hudson Regional Fire Department was dispatched to reports of a grass fire along the Palisades cliffs in North Bergen. Approaching North Hudson apparatus couldn’t find a grass fire, but as they moved north they reported a structure fire. Units cross the county line into Bergen County and went to work.

As the heavy flames were being knocked down in the original fire building with master streets and handlines, fire was spotted coming from the rear of a three-story dwelling that fronts on Palisade Avenue. The smoke quickly turned into flames, breaking out in the rear cockloft area and moving toward the Palisade Avenue side. Local and mutual aid firefighters went to work, but as flames quickly consumed the top-floor, and defensive attach began, which included a tower ladder and a squirt.

Police evacuated numerous dwellings and had business on the ground floor of some of the buildings closed down due to the burning ember condition. Small fires were reported in some of those structures.

Low banking smoke filled the streets so, at times, you could only see the warming lights from fire apparatus. Residents were taken to other buildings in the area for shelter. A mass rehab station was set up in a gas station lot on Palisade Ave., which included a Bergen County EMS Task Force. Firefighters assisted the D.P.W. which shovels to place rock salt on the ice covered streets.

The fire in the building under construction was contained around 8:30 p.m. The fire at occupied multiple dwelling on Palisade Ave. was called under control at 10:21 p.m., but hot spots flared up throughout the night.

Mutual aid fire companies that operated at the scene included units from Fairview, Ridgefield, Leonia, Palisades Park, Fort Lee, Englewood, Englewood Cliffs, as well as companies and chiefs from North Hudson.

See more photos from this fire HERE.

MORE RON JEFFERS PHOTOS

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