PERTH AMBOY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Nearly a dozen families woke up without a home on the day before Easter, after a raging fire gutted several Perth Amboy buildings.
As CBS 2’s Amy Dardashtian reported, on Saturday morning, residents were trying to take stock of what, if anything, was left, as the fire still burned more than 16 hours after it broke out.
The American Red Cross was trying to help the neighbors who lost everything, but many residents said they simply could not afford to rebuild.
Firefighters arrived at the scene on West Side Avenue around 3:30 p.m. Friday. The fast-moving fire swallowed up five roofs, leaving nothing but smoke billowing from the destruction.
“It did start in the middle, which is probably the worst place with the wind blowing; it was extending both ways,” said Perth Amboy fire Chief of Department David Volk.
Winds whipped the fire across five row houses – duplexes housing a total of 11 units. Most of the residents said they were not home when the blaze broke out, but arrived back at their homes with nothing to do but watch the buildings burn to the ground.
Once the flames burned out, 45 people were homeless.
One resident, Stephanie Cruz, cried on the phone as the sad reality set in. The duplex she shared with her parents, brother and cousin was destroyed.
“We’re all OK. That’s most important,” Cruz told CBS 2’s Dave Carlin. “I just want to be around here because I’m not going to be able to go in there ever again. I just need support — whether it’s emotional and just everything like…because I have nothing.”
In the arms of 12-year-old Jaileen Rivera was her 6-week-old Teacup Yorkie named “Bam Bam.” Before anyone could stop her, she ran back in to her family’s burning home to rescue the puppy.
“I couldn’t find him so I spent about two minutes to look for him, but I found him ran out as soon as I can,” Rivera told Carlin.
There were tough, chaotic conditions for the more than 50 firefighters from eight departments responding to the fire. They battled from below and above, stopping the fire from claiming more homes.
Because not only did the high winds push the blaze down the line of structures, it also caused several brush fires to flare up.
On Saturday morning, some deep-seated pockets of fire remained, Dardashtian reported. They were trapped under a floor that collapsed, and thus, inaccessible to firefighters. The fire department was waiting for an excavator to come in.
Once the fire was largely over and the losses were clear, neighbor Kevin Camacho said on the block, residents had become a family. He said it will be a community effort to rebuild.
“All my neighbors that I knew for years lost everything,” he said.
Some of the homes at the far end of the row of duplexes were spared the brunt of the damage, but still sustained damage from smoke. Some residents who could not return to their homes after the fire slept outside in their cars due to fear of looters.
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