WOODBRIDGE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Investigators are trying to determine what sparked a massive fire that destroyed part of a Woodbridge apartment complex and forced residents to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
No one was injured in the 9-alarm blaze, but more than 50 of the complex’s 190 units were destroyed when the fire broke out Tuesday afternoon. Crews battled the flames and heavy smoke for more than eight hours, which poured out of windows and the roof.
“I thought it was a nightmare,” 15-year-old Vidhi Joshi said.
“I’ve been in the company 22 years. This is my third time as chief and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Frank Strain, the Woodbridge Fire Chief.
Emergency responders banged on doors and saved residents, including one woman who barely made it out before the fire peaked.
“I just finished my shower and I heard the knock on the door, whole living room was dark, jet black,” said resident Shrabani Mondal.
Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac used a loudspeaker to call out residents’ names to make sure everyone made it out of the burning buildings.
But despite the intensity of the fire, everyone has been accounted for.
“Everybody will do everything they can to make sure that these people have a place to stay, not only for tonight, but probably for the foreseeable future,” McCormac said.
Now residents are trying to determine what’s next.
At the leasing office, heartbroken and homeless tenants filed paperwork for new apartments.
“Everything is lost,” Adi Palabugu said. “I have to start from the beginning.”
Many of the victims are immigrants who are in the country on work or student visas.
Vital documents are scattered among the debris and investigators say that’s where they’ll likely remain, CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang reported.
“We have passports, Social Security, Greencards, everything,” Joshi said.
How the fire started is still a question, but why it burned so stubbornly and for so long, is clear.
The older construction pre-dated current Woodbridge building codes requiring fire stops at the roof-line, fire officials said. So the flames and smoke spread quickly from unit to unit, leaving dozens homeless.
Crews are using cherry pickers to uncover the spot where they believe the fire started, Jiang reported.
Then they hope to determine a cause but admit it might be impossible given the massive amount of rubble left to sift through.
“They took down a lot of the front of the buildings to be able to fight the fire so it’s impossible right now to get in there,” McCormac said. “As soon as things are cleared away they’ll get into what they can but the buildings are a total loss. It’ll be very difficult to determine the cause but they’ll do the best they can.”
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