A massive chemical fire broke out in Passaic, New Jersey on Friday night, sending plumes of potentially dangerous smoke into the sky and prompting residents to be evacuated from the immediate area.
The fire at a warehouse at 225 Passaic Avenue was raised to three alarms just after 9 p.m., according to Mayor Hector Carolos Lora, who was on the scene. By 11 p.m., it had grown to an 11-alarm blaze and spread to multiple nearby buildings.
“There have been bad fires but this is the worst that I’ve ever seen,” Lora said.
At least one firefighter was injured and hospitalized after he was hit in the head with falling debris, fire officials said.
The building collapsed around 10:40 p.m., according to reports. The address belongs to Qualco, Inc. a swimming pools chemical company, according to its website.
Lora said firefighters were working to curb the fire from spreading to the main plant structure of the Qualco building, where stores of chlorine pellets remained the biggest threat.
“There are chlorine pellets that are causing a real danger as the fire continues to rage,” he said on Facebook. “A portion of Qualco that has pellets has been affected, but the majority of the plant was not.”
Over 100,000 pounds of finished chlorine pellets have been impacted, according to reports.
Lora asked residents to avoid the area and keep their windows closed due to potentially dangerous effects from the chemical fumes.
“This is a chemical fire. You will see the color distinguished in the sky,” he said.
Lora said that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was on scene conducting air quality tests in the area.
Harrowing videos posted on social media showed the vast plumes of smoke blowing in the wind on a frigid night where temperatures were as low as 20 degrees with a wind-chill of 0 degrees, according to Accuweather.
The blaze caused so much smoke that it was visible on weather radar, extending over 50 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, according to meteorologist Craig Ceecee.
New York City residents were warned they too might see and smell smoke from the fire.
Passaic Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost said on Facebook Live that about 200 firefighters from Passaic, Essex and Bergen counties responded. Fireboats from other departments also responded.
Firefighters were tapping into fire hydrants as far away as City Hall, blocks away from the blaze, the mayor said.
Fire officials said they were utilizing over one million gallons of water per minute to douse the flames, which were quickly freezing over in the frigid conditions.
Trentacost said his department is continuing to monitor the threat of the chlorine in the blaze, which he said was “by no means under control” by 11 p.m.
“We got some minor involvement with some packing material, some minor tubs of chlorine, nothing to be concerned with at this time, but we are monitoring it constantly.”
The fire shut down Route 21 South, according to the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
Gov. Phil Murphy also urged all residents to stay safe and keep their windows closed.
“We urge everyone in Passaic to stay safe as firefighters battle a large eight-alarm fire at a chemical plant off of Route 21. If you live nearby, keep your windows closed. Praying for the safety of our first responders on the scene.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the blaze.