UNION CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Crews battled harsh winds and plummeting temperatures to fight a fast-moving fire that claimed the life of a young boy in Union City, New Jersey early Saturday morning.
The blaze began in a second-floor apartment on Summit Avenue near 14th Street around 1 a.m. before spreading to the building next door.
Inside, lived Mariana Gonzalez’s son and grandchildren. She tells CBS2’s Ali Bauman, 1-year-old Eddie Jr. never made it out.
“My son woke up when he saw the fire, and then he realized that the baby boy was still in the house. So he tried to go in, but the fire department didn’t let him go back in because he was already on fire,” she said.
Officials say Gonzalez’s son is in the hospital with severe burns.
In the apartment below, father Rafael Presens also braved flames to rescue his six children.
“I got my kids. The only thing I got is to open the window and go out the window,” he said.
Daniel Peter tells WCBS 880’s Myles Miller that he saw it all.
“They were trying to rescue the woman and her kids but they couldn’t get them,” he said. “The fireman tried and then the fire was just out of control.”
Thirty mile-per-hour winds swept embers from the fire down 14th Street to nearby Saint Joseph and Michael Roman Catholic Church, where the steeple ignited and toppled down, knocking over power lines onto the street.
“We originally had a fire in the three-story building here, we had heavy fire on the second floor,” North Hudson Fire Chief Frank Montagne said. “Companies arrived. Heavy wind conditions, freezing conditions, and the fire got extended. It went into one of the exposures. At the same time, due to the wind — it was really blowing like 20 to 30 miles an hour — the flying branch from that fire got down the block and caught the steeple on fire. So he steeple caught fire, that fire’s now into the church.”
Residents lamented not only the loss of life, but the loss of their beloved church.
“Everything in that church, baptism, communions, confirmations, my siblings were married in that church, my parents’ funerals were in that church, it’s just very hard,” resident Maryanne Molinari told CBS2.
Worshipers gathered Saturday night for a mass to pray for the boy.
“It’s just heartbreaking to see your second home going up in flames,” resident Sarah Rives said.
Cardinal Joe Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, tweeted his support of those affected by the early Saturday inferno.
The Red Cross has sent disaster workers to assist victims who have been evacuated or displaced.
Nearly 24 hours later, crews were still on the scene dousing hot spots. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)