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5 Firefighters Hurt In Massive Blaze In Harrison

Smoke pours out of a building in Harrison, New Jersey on March 10, 2013. Credit 1010 WINS reporter Gary Baumgarten.

Smoke pours out of a building in Harrison, New Jersey on March 10, 2013. Credit 1010 WINS reporter Gary Baumgarten.

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HARRISON, NJ(CBSNewYork) — Five firefighters were hurt in a terrifying explosion and extra-alarm blaze in Harrison, N.J., Sunday afternoon.

Organizers had to alter the route of the West Hudson St. Patrick’s Day Parade as the stubborn five-alarm fire raged on the 600 block of Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard in Harrison.

Matthew Gorsky, who lives in a nearby building, talked about the scene with WCBS 880’s Jim Smith.

“We saw flames from the very top of the second building from the corner,” Gorsky said.

The fire was under control by 4:45 p.m., but it ended up leaving five Jersey City firefighters injured. Their injuries were described as relatively minor.

But when the fire was at its height, a dangerous backdraft was caught on video, CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported. Backdrafts are an explosive phenomenon, and they are one of the worst things that can go wrong in a firefight.

One of those badly hurt when the backdraft erupted was a battalion chief.

“When that glass blew out, he got it all in his face and his body,” said Harrison fire Capt. Robert Gillen. “He was bleeding profusely,”

Backdrafts are a peril for even the most experienced fire crews.

“All you need is an entrance of more oxygen, and it’s just a massive explosion,” Gillen said. “A massive explosion.”

No civilians were reported injured in the blaze, but half a dozen families were left homeless, with the American Red Cross assisting them.

The cause of the fire, which could be seen for miles, was under investigation Sunday. But the origin of the inferno already had been determined.

Gillen said the fire appeared to have started in the kitchen area of a ground floor restaurant and spread into an adjacent apartment building.

Among those fleeing the monster blaze congregants inside a church attending a Sunday service.

“I said, ‘Stop the music. We need to evacuate. There’s a fire,’” said church member Jackeline Flores, adding that her goal was to “try to keep it orderly and just run out.”

“We heard a big explosion, and one of the firemen, he fell on the floor. Everybody started screaming,” said church member Maria Rodriguez. “It was ugly.”

Flames erupted from the building, ashes rained to the ground, and thick black smoke could be seen from the New Jersey Turnpike as firefighters from Harrison, Jersey City, Kearny, North Arlington, Lyndhurst, and East Newark battled the fire.

Harrison Fire

The aftermath of a fire in Harrison, N.J., that left five firefighters injured. (Credit: Jim Smith/WCBS 880)

Everyone got out safely from the church service, but there were reports that the church lost up to $100,000 in equipment, supplies and donations.

The damage from the great fire was so devastating that officials said they may begin tearing down some of the structures that were affected as soon as overnight.

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