Firefighters Letting Blaze Burn Itself Out

NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A large warehouse fire in central New Jersey that was fueled by plastics, autos and household goods sent plumes of black smoke into the air Wednesday that were visible from space for most of the day.

Nearly 24 hours after the blaze started, dozens of North Brunswick residents were being bussed to Red Cross shelters.

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As CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, displaced residents of the North Brunswick Manor apartment complex hoped to be back in their homes by 6 p.m., but instead were brought to a shelter at Linwood Middle School.

Unfortunately, residents could not go home as crews battled the fire nearly 24 hours later.

Residents were awoken in the middle of the night, just before 2 a.m., when the neighboring warehouse complex on Livingston Avenue caught fire. Orange flames, clouds of thick, black smoke, and toxic fumes filled the air.

“We are seeing some carbon monoxide and some compounds you see in a regular fire. The game plan is to continue monitoring,” Bob Van Fossen, NJ DEP Emergency Management Director, said.

Hundreds of firefighters responded to the blaze, which broke out around 2 a.m. Wednesday in the rear of the complex that is used by eight businesses off Livingston Road in North Brunswick, Fire Chief Donald Salzmann said.

“It started in the center of the building into the warehouse section. It spread then to the north end of the building and then continued to spread to the southern end of the building,” Salzmann said.

PHOTOS: North Brunswick Warehouse Fire

The flames quickly overtook a sprinkler system and spread from one end of the building to the other. Several hundred residents of the eight buildings directly behind the warehouse were evacuated, CBS2’s Dave Carlin reports.

“We were trying to keep it under control and try to save half the building, which we were unsuccessful in doing,” Salzmann told 1010 WINS’ Rebecca Granet.

Salzmann said the fire burned from one end of the building to the other, consuming such things as plastics, cars and carpeting. The chief said an entire lot of used cars burned as well.

“Anywhere from floor cover to carpeting,” he said. “The end unit burning was a plastics manufacturer.”

Crews were expected to remain on the scene through the night.

The importing company where Nate Sheff worked for nearly 40 years was among the businesses destroyed.

“There’s no words,” he told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell. “The pictures speak for themselves.”

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The massive blaze lit up the night sky and the billowing thick smoke was visible on a weather satellite photo.

Firefighters decided to let it burn out and could be on the scene dealing with hot spots through the evening, the chief said.

Residents of a nearby apartment building were evacuated after heat from the blaze set the siding on fire. Others were moved as a precaution over fears of potential toxins being released from the burning plastic.

At least 75 residents have been evacuated from apartments bordering the auto parts manufacturer, WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reported.

Many said they awoke to the smell of smoke and the sounds of several explosions.

“It was loud, almost like thunder, like explosions and that’s what woke me out of my sleep,” said evacuated resident Yolanda Brewer.

“I heard a boom,” evacuated resident Jorge Melendez said. “It had sparks coming and pieces of even the warehouse in front of our lawn.”

Officials were monitoring the air quality. They had not detected any dangerous levels of toxins, Mayor Francis Womac III said.

“So we are aware of the air and the toxins there could be so for people in the area, the recommendation is stay inside, stay away from smoke,” Womac said.

The mayor also recommended nearby residents turn off their air conditioners as a precaution. Officials were helping residents with respiratory health problems move, if they were unable to do so.

Low water pressure was an issue and tanker trucks, along with firefighters from within a 20-mile radius, were brought to the scene.

A firefighter was treated at the scene for a hand injury.

Who knows what tomorrow brings, but thank God nobody got seriously hurt,” said Nate Sheff.

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