Investigators Say It Could Take Days, Even Weeks To Determine Official Cause

ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Fire officials said a building where a four-alarm blaze broke out early Friday morning appears to be a total loss.

The fire started in a three-story building at 216 Main St., at around 1:30 a.m. Residents said they woke up to thick black smoke pouring into their apartments and scrambled for safety.

1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports

“[I] grabbed a towel and tried to cover myself from the smoke and went to the fire escape,” resident Eric Dunlap told CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown.

Dunlap said he began banging on doors, trying to warn his neighbors about the blaze. Salvatore Corder, his wife and their four young children made it out just in time.

“Smoke was coming out, I wake up all my family,” Corder said.

Backup crews from neighboring towns and Essex County had to be called in to help fight the flames and carry some people who were trapped inside the building to safety.

“The problem with these 100-year-old buildings is that once they get a fire, they tend to take off and this is the result,” said Orange Fire Director Michael Dowd. “It went through the roof. This building is fairly heavily damaged.”

When the smoke cleared, the damage was obvious. Upper-floor apartments were gutted and businesses on the bottom floor were left in ruins. Officials said they have accounted for all of the residents. Two people suffered minor injuries.

Cell phone video taken by witness Alex Querques showed the scene moments after the flames broke out.

“It’s hard to lose everything, but better to lose everything than your life and all,” Querques said.

Families huddled together at a nearby school as volunteers carted in food and clothing and tried to provide shelter.

“We’re in a spirit of Christmas and celebration, so first we have to pray for the families to make sure that they have the relief that’s necessary and then any relief we can offer,” Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren said.

Akram Mohamad said he’s devastated by the loss, but relieved no one was seriously hurt.

“You know what? Thank God we survived — that’s enough,” Mohamad said.

Investigators said it could take days or even weeks to determine the official cause of the blaze.

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