Firefighters continued to battle a large blaze Saturday morning at a chemical plant in Passaic, NJ, more than 14 hours after it erupted, sending towering flames into the sky and clouds of smoke in the area.
By 11 a.m. the blaze had been downgraded to a four-alarm response from an 11-alarm response, but bitter low temperatures created further problems as firefighters dealt with frozen hydrants and under dangerous conditions.
City officials said the worst outcome had been averted so far: the fire did not reach the part of the plant that houses large amounts of chemicals, and there was no major injuries.
Residents were asked to keep their windows closed. The city’s mayor said Saturday morning that the situation did not require them to evacuate the area.
“This is one of the worst fires I’ve seen as mayor because of the potential,” Mayor Hector C. Lora said in a phone interview around 10:30 a.m. “He had the potential to be the worst in our town. We would just consider evacuating hundreds and hundreds of people if he got to the chemical section.
The fire started just after 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Majestic Industries warehouse, which houses Qualco, a company that makes chlorine tablets for swimming pools and can store more than 100,000 pounds of the product.
Qualco’s website appeared to be down Saturday morning. No representative could be immediately reached.
The building was largely empty at the time of the fire, with only one security guard present, officials said. More than 200 firefighters from across the region were dispatched to Passaic, a town of about 70,000 people about 10 miles from Manhattan.
The cause of the fire remained unknown. Officials said inspectors would not be able to begin making a decision until the situation was under control.
Mr Lora said some similar fires at factories in the area had been caused by increased use of heaters and equipment during the cold months, but stressed that it was unclear whether this was the case on Friday.
The mayor and state environment officials said no toxic fumes were being emitted and air quality readings in the area remained within state and federal limits. .
“We will be moving forward with more permanent installations to ensure the air quality in the area is continuously up to standard,” said Ken Pincus, the city’s health officer.
However, the weather conditions presented new challenges to the firefighters on Saturday morning.
The direction of the wind on Friday evening had sent smoke and flames straight into the air, Mr Lora said, and was also helping to fuel the fire on Saturday.
“Last night’s winds, I would say, were our best friend,” Mr Lora said. “This morning he could become our worst enemy as he continues to fuel the fire.”
A section of the building over 200,000 square feet collapsed, and firefighters said they were concerned about structural issues in other areas.
It was unclear how close the fire came to affecting the largest chemical supply. Only one firefighter reported a minor eye injury, officials said, and no residents were injured.
About 900 families live in a housing complex near the plant, Mr Lora said, and would have had to leave if conditions had worsened.
“Where would we put them? Where do you take them when air quality is a concern in every area you shoot? said Mr. Lora. “The building can be replaced, but human life cannot. Keeping everyone safe is what I’m most grateful for right now. »
The blaze sent waves of smoke Friday night through the area, and New York City officials said residents may see or smell smoke.
A video posted on social media shows a big fireball erupting along a highway as thick clouds of smoke roar into the sky. The flames drew crowds of onlookers, some of whom said they heard explosions and saw sparks.
Mr. Lora said he spoke to Governor Philip D. Murphy, who dispatched environmental and emergency management officials to the scene.
Mr. Murphy said on Twitter Friday that he urged “everyone in Passaic to stay safe”.
“Praying for the safety of our first responders at the scene,” he wrote.
Mike Ives contributed reporting.