PASSAIC, New Jersey – Billowing black smoke disappeared from the sky above the 11-alarm chemical plant fire that burned in Passaic overnight.
“The fire is contained. But I can’t say it’s under control because of pockets of fire,” Passaic Mayor Hector Lora told NorthJersey.com on Saturday morning. make sure it doesn’t reach the main factory.”
More than 200 firefighters battled the 11-alarm chemical blaze, which started at 8:16 p.m. at Majestic Industries on Passaic Street and quickly spread to the nearby Qualco chemical plant, the Passaic fire chief said. Patrick Trentacost.
It has now been downgraded to a four-alarm fire, but 25 companies remain on site, Trentacost said.
“There is fire in the basement under the roof,” he said. “It was the total collapse of a three-story building.”
The 300-by-400-foot building was vacant but used to store plastics, pallets and chlorine, Trentacost said. The overpowering smell of smoke and chemicals was enough to bring tears to people’s eyes all the way to Wallington.
Firefighters – who had to deal with freezing overnight conditions that froze pipes and hydrants and made walking on frozen ice dangerous – stopped the fire from reaching an area where more chemicals were stored, Lora said.
“This fire could have reached the main chemical plant and we could have considered a possible mass evacuation without Chief Trentacost and mutual aid,” Lora said.
The chief described it as a “difficult” night with firefighters battling both the elements and the massive blaze which belched out enough smoke to be detected by weather radar.
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“A firefighter was sent to hospital with a facial laceration,” Trentacost said. “He was treated and released. About 14-16 firefighters slipped and fell with bruises, twisted ankles, all minor.”
Another challenge was that the Passaic Fire Department was recently mired in its worst COVID-19 outbreak in recent memory.
“It’s unprecedented,” Trentacost told NorthJersey.com earlier this month. He lost nearly half of his 106 firefighters to COVID and spent Christmas quarantined in his basement following his own diagnosis. “I never thought that in my time I would see something like this.”
The state Department of Environmental Protection will remain on site to monitor air quality throughout the day.
“Since this morning, residents can go out and go to work,” said the mayor. “We are not forcing individuals to stay at home. Air quality is below levels that would cause concern.
The Qualco site housed up to 3 million pounds of potentially hazardous substances on average per day, according to state data.
Qualco Inc., which makes pool treatment supplies, had about a dozen chemicals at its large Passaic Street plant, ranging from industrial disinfectants to bleaches, according to a 2020 inventory list sent to regulators. the state.
The Passaic Fire Department had used the Qualco facility in the 1990s as a training ground to deal with large-scale fires and chemical spills.
The fire will need to be fully extinguished before authorities can investigate its cause, Lora said.
At the height of the fire, large embers were blowing from the site across the Passaic River south to Wallington.
“Last year, around this time, we had one of the biggest fires in city history at the recycling plant,” Lora said. “This time of year always brings challenges. I encourage people to exercise caution when using space heaters or when plugging objects into outlets using extension cords.”
The blaze was reminiscent of the infamous 1985 Labor Day fire that ravaged around 20% of Passaic’s industrial base. The fire incinerated 21 century-old factories and 17 apartment buildings as well as homes in the city’s Lower Dundee area.
Despite the cold temperatures, the January fires have ravaged North Jersey in recent years. A massive fire destroyed the Atlantic Coast Fibers recycling plant on January 30 last year. In that case, firefighters braved the bitter cold overnight and into the next day to extinguish the blaze, which engulfed an entire city block and blanketed the city skyline in smoke. There were at least two explosions at the site.
And two years earlier, on January 30, 2019, the landscape of nearby Elmwood Park changed forever when a 10-alarm fire leveled the historic Marcal Paper Mill. By the end of the night, 30 of the 36 structures at the site were either damaged or destroyed. The Marcal sign that colored the Elmwood Park portion of Route 80 a hue of red for decades was also destroyed.
Staff writers Scott Fallon, Katie Sobko and Steve Janoski contributed to this story.