A spectacular fire lit up the evening sky in Edgewater, New Jersey, on January 21, as fire tore through the block-long four-story Avalon at Edgewater luxury housing complex. The complex contained more than 400 apartments, and the fire displaced between 350 and 400 residents. The site was the scene of another spectacular fire in August 2000 when the complex was still under construction and burned to the ground. In that fire, there were no occupants, but embers set fires to homes across the street, displacing many.
Around 4:30 p.m. Edgewater volunteer firefighters were dispatched to a “working fire” at 102 Russell Avenue. They found fire in a first floor apartment and hand lines were advanced. A second alarm was transmitted, bringing in mutual aid companies as the fire spread through voids in the walls and floors. Firefighters were ordered to evacuate the area on the second floor above the fire apartment since the floor was compromised.
A third alarm was struck as black smoke began to appear at the upper floors and cockloft area of the lightweight wood-frame structure. A defensive operation was established as fire quickly raced through the entire complex. Tower ladders were set up by units from Edgewater, Fort Lee, Tenafly, Hillsdale, and Woodcliff Lake. Ladder pipes were placed into operation from Cliffside Park, Fairview, Hackensack, North Hudson, and East Rutherford, in addition to a squirt operation by Edgewater Engine 2. Other fire companies that operated during the height of the blaze included units from Ridgefield, Ridgefield Park, Palisades Park, Leonia, Bogota, Maywood, and Hasbrouck Heights. Fire companies from throughout Bergen County were called in over night to relieve crews and work the fire as well as cover area firehouses. An estimated 300 firefighters were used.
Additional alarms and special calls brought the companies in, and later the Neptune System from Union County and FDNY Marine 1 and Jersey City Marine 1 were called to the scene. The FDNY boat went into operation, delivering big water from the near by Hudson River through large diameter hose that was dropped to the scene.
Some residents left the building with only the clothes on their backs. Others had time to collect belongings and watch the fire spread to their apartments as they stood in the street. New York Yankees radio play-by-play announcer John Sterling lived at Avalon. He told the media that he lost everything and took shelter in a near by hotel.
O.E.M. officials said all residents were accounted for as well as most pets. Shelter for residents was set up at a near by school and social club.
Flames lit up the sky, giving people in Manhattan quite a view, including some New York City TV stations that showed the fire from their studios. Some of the local reporters said it was one of the biggest fires they had ever covered.
During the fire, explosive pops could be heard. Gas was reported shut off to the building in the early stages, but there were blue flames visible in areas. The blue flames could have been a result of pockets of gas left in pipes, officials said.
Mayor Michael Partland told the media that the fire was being contained around 11 p.m. As the sun rose over Edgewater the next morning, a huge column of smoke was rolling across the Hudson River into Manhattan as fire companies continued to wet down large areas of hot spots, now in piles of lumber where handsome apartments stood just hours earlier.
In all, no serious injuries were reported. In addition, temperatures were above freezing during the height of the fire, preventing water from freezing during the initial operations. Representatives from United Water were on the scene making sure water pressure in the area was increased to assist firefighting efforts.
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