PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Buildings were destroyed, and dozens of people were evacuated, as one extra-alarm fire in Paterson, N.J. turned into four different fires thanks to whipping winds.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, the fire first broke out around 5 p.m. at River Street and Sixth Avenue in Paterson. The blaze was later raised to three alarms.
The fire spread started at a row of three-story buildings – with businesses on the first floor and residences above. The three-story buildings were destroyed, and the fire went on to spread to three other locations.
At 11 p.m., firefighters were still trying to get one of the blazes under control, while the American Red Cross came out to help those displaced.
Families got out with just what they could carry as their apartments were destroyed.
Meanwhile, firefighters from Garfield and Little Falls had to join Paterson city firefighters to face down wind-driven flames and an unbroken wall of smoke.
We looked out the window, and smoke and stuff, and we just ran out the house,” said fire victim Tearney Benjamin. “I grabbed (my baby) and ran out. Everything’s gone.”
At the main fire site on River Street, four buildings of apartments and their ground-floor businesses were completely consumed by flames. Two adjacent buildings were severely damaged.
That was bad enough, but the fire would not stay put. With the blasting, frigid winds on Wednesday, sparks flew across the street and sparked the second fire, and then two more – blocks away.
Surrounding homes and businesses were evacuated, and power was cut in some places.
And with temperatures dropping Wednesday night, spray from the hoses froze on surfaces. CBS 2 caught up with Paterson Fire Chief Michael Postorino in a storm of spray and smoke, and he said the weather was firefighters’ biggest enemy Wednesday night.
“As you can see, the wind is our biggest obstacle with this fire,” Postorino said. “It keeps shifting, so it’s hard to gain control.”
One family moved a litter of puppies to friend’s home nearby. The fire moved so fast that it was hard to register the danger.
“A half hour ago, I was helping my baby with his homework, and then I look out the window and I see all the smoke,” said evacuee Annie Jackson.
“I ran to the back to see if it was a minor fire, and it was huge – like, the whole thing was already on fire,” said evacuee Raul Mio. “The wind was pushing it, basically.”
Two firefighters were injured in the blazes. Local hospitals also said six civilians were being treated for injuries, but the fire department said the civilians were not transported from the scene in ambulances.
And the timing of the fire was terrible – old-stock housing burning at the height of a wind advisory. The damage only died down as the wind slackened.
By 7:30 p.m., two of the four fires were out. But firefighters were expected to be on the scene all night as one of the fires continued to burn.
It appeared that the fire started inside a restaurant on the ground floor of one of the River Street buildings.
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