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Historic Marcal Paper Mill destroyed by fire as iconic red sign, brick building collapse in massive blaze

NEW JERSEY (From news reports) -- The Marcal Paper mill was mostly destroyed Wednesday night as a massive blaze tore through the historic facility on the Passaic River in Elmwood Park.

Despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters in below zero wind chills, the mill's large red sign, a North Jersey landmark for decades, collapsed along with the iconic red brick building the held it aloft alongside Route 80 for millions of passing motorists throughout the years.

By midnight, Elmwood Park Police Chief Michael Foligno said the fire had mostly been brought "pretty much under control, burning at ground level."

At 4:30 a.m. flames could still be seen from Route 80.

The Elmwood Park neighborhood that forms a semi-circle around the 45,000 square mill found itself inundated with falling paper embers and choking smoke as firefighters ordered the evacuation of several homes. Traffic slowed to a crawl on Route 80, with one motorist reporting on Twitter that the temperature gauge in his car spiked by about 50 degrees as he passed the mill, an indication of the intensity of the paper-fueled fire.

A plume of smoke from the massive fire could be seen on radar as far away as the South Shore of Long Island, as video after video from the scene showed flames shooting from the roof of the 86-year-old mill, and explosions of propane tanks could be heard. No injuries were reported.

Earlier, Foligno said that firefighters were unable to bring the blaze under control because of the weather, and that it was being allowed to burn itself out. Temperatures dropped to nine degrees in Elmwood Park as of 9 p.m., with a wind chill of minus-16.

He said that embers spread to several nearby homes, resulting in small fires that were quickly extinguished. Likewise, smoldering embers landed on the roof the municipal building and were doused by firefighters.

A string of homes closest to the fire were evacuated, he said, and the town opened a warming center at the borough recreation building.

Rob Baron, President and Chief Executive Officer of Soundview Paper Company, which now runs Marcal, said none of the 200 employees working at the facility at the time of the fire were injured.

"The full extent of the damage to our facility is not yet known, but we know the impact will be incalculable to the lives of our dedicated workers and our business as a whole," Baron said in a statement. "Our top priority in the coming days and weeks will be to support our associates at Marcal whose lives will be directly impacted by this disaster."

The mill was founded by papermaker Nicholas Marcalus in 1932, who came to the United States from Sicily as a teenager and went on to hold dozens of patents, and was taken over by his son Robert in 1979. He operated the family-owned mill until 2008, and died in 2014.

The firm grew to more than $200 million in annual sales of paper towels and other products made entirely from recycled fiber, most of which were sold in the Northeast.

Soundview Paper Company, is owned by private investment firm Atlas Holdings of Greenwich, Connecticut.

The site has a long history of fires including a 2017 blaze where over 100 firefighters extinguished a 5-alarm inferno at the mill.

Crews were able to contain a 2014 fire that started in an exterior storage area where the company keeps recycled bales of paper.

On Jan. 9, a small fire was reported on the roof the building, but it was brought under control in about two hours.

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