Parts of Passaic were draped in a gray haze Saturday afternoon, as 25 different fire agencies spanning four counties worked to put out a persistent nine-alarm fire at a recycling plant in which multiple explosions occurred.
There was just one injury and all 70 of Atlantic Coast Fibers plant’s employees were accounted for. Yet an estimated $22 million of damage have already been incurred since the fire was reported around 1 a.m. Saturday, officials said.
Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office were able to assess the building on 7th Street, and foul play is not suspected at this time.
Once investigators deemed the fire non-suspicious, officials decided to demolish the building in order to prevent more pocket fires from popping up and spreading. They’ve received approval from a construction official, and demolition is scheduled for 5 p.m. and will continue into tomorrow.
“Barring any surprises, the fire will be out before the evening,” Mayor Hector Lora told NJ Advance Media.
The cause is under investigation, with multiple agencies leading their own probes.
As of Saturday afternoon, firefighters are still at work on the pocket fires as winds spread embers across the property. The fire has been difficult to contain due to the wintry conditions, with temperatures dropping as low as 15 degrees in the early morning.
“Considering the frigid temperatures, the weather was not helping… immediately as the water was coming out of the holes in the hydrants, it was freezing over,” Lora said.
Officials said gas tanks and vehicles exploded overnight, helping the fire spread more aggressively. With flammable plastics inside, plenty of gas tanks lying around and Patella Woodworking next door, the scene seemed ready-made to produce Passaic’s worst fire in recent years.
Still, despite the size of the fire, which essentially collapsed the main building and is only now propped up by the recycling material inside, there’s been just one injury reported. After slipping on ice, a firefighter was taken to the hospital, but Lora said he is fine.
Now, as firefighters work to control the blaze, other immediate concerns face the town. Roads are blocked off all throughout Passaic, the city’s homeless food distribution scheduled for tomorrow will likely have to be relocated and 70 Atlantic Coast Fibers employees have no workplace to report to.
“They’ve been here for 80 years, so obviously, they’re a staple in our community,” Lora said. “The jobs are extremely important; the majority of the employees are residents.”
All 30 of the employees working at the plant Friday night were evacuated from the property immediately. Lora said he spoke with their supervisor who will try to relocate the plant’s workers to another facility. The family-run company also has locations in Lakewood, Neptune and Tinton Falls.
“Jobs can be replaced, this can be rebuilt, but life is sacred, and the fact that we haven’t had a single loss of life, that’s important,” Lora said.
The mayor credits the work of the firefighters, a multi-county team, for containing the blaze and preventing fatalities.
“These guys have been non-stop, on ladders, dealing with flames in the worst conditions, slipping and falling, but never relenting in their efforts to protect the residents of our city,” Lora said.
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