NEW JERSEY (From news reports) -- A massive inferno destroyed a New Jersey paper recycling plant early Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, sparking several explosions inside the warehouse as it collapsed in on itself.
Photos on social media showed heavy flames lighting up the night sky as firefighters scramble to douse the blaze from outside the Atlantic Coast Fibers plant on Seventh Ave. in Passaic.
The fire erupted just after 12 a.m. and quickly rose to 11 alarms with two dozen fire companies from throughout the state racing over to lend a hand. The flames were so intense that several small explosions erupted inside the building before it buckled and collapsed.
"There was an actual explosion, twice," Passaic Mayor Hector Carlos Lora said during a Facebook Live broadcast early Saturday. One of the explosions occurred when the flames ignited the gas tank of a truck at the scene, the mayor said.
"Our concern is that the fire spread to another structure. We're going to be out here fighting this fire for the next few days," he said.
By 2 a.m., responding firefighters "needed to access every fire hydrant in the area," said Lora. Since fire hydrants in the area are scarce, firefighters were planning to use a "Neptune system" where they pump water from the nearby Passaic River, the mayor explained.
With temperatures dipping to below 20 degrees, firefighters were taking turns warming up in ambulances before going back out to fight the flames.
"I walked outside and it was punch-you-in-the-face cold," Lora said.
Two firefighters suffered minor injuries, but all 70 employees at the plant were accounted for, the mayor said.
The building -- which contains paper, cardboard and other paper products destined to be recycled -- was still burning Saturday afternoon.
Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost said the cause of the blaze was under investigation. He said he didn't consider it suspicious, adding that fires were common in recycling plants.
"A lot of oils get on the recycling, the cardboard that they pick up on the streets in the sanitation trucks. So, batteries, acids can start a fire. A lot of factors," Trentacost said.
Two years ago to the day, an eerily similar inferno tore through the Marcal Paper Mills in Elmwood Park, N.J., destroying the plant and toppling the iconic "Marcal" sign that had been visible along Route 80 since the 1940s.
The 2019 fire started in a storage area that held large reams of paper, but the cause of the blaze was never determined