New Jersey chemical plant fire contained, spreads thick smoke

Northeast

PASSAIC CITY, N.J. (NewsNation Now) — A large chemical fire burned through the night and into Saturday in northern New Jersey, its smoke so heavy that it was detected on weather radar and seen and smelled in neighboring New York City. The blaze is now contained, officials said.

The 11-alarm chemical fire forced residents to seal their homes as the vast blaze and smoke plume rage about 10 miles northwest of the Hudson River. The fire at Majestic Industries and the Qualco chemical plant in Passaic spread to multiple buildings and threatened their collapse, officials said.

Water from firefighter hoses froze in cold weather and made the environment slick and hazardous for responders.

“This is an extremely serious fire because it is still being assessed in terms of the chemicals,” Passaic City Mayor Hector C. Lora said on Facebook Live. “We are asking all residents to stay as far away from the area as possible.”

There were no initial reports of loss of life, he said. Passaic Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost said the building was vacant when the fire broke out. Passaic sits 10 miles north of Newark and 15 miles west of Manhattan.

“We are extremely concerned for the health and safety of those in the area,” Lora said.

The exact point of origin and cause of the fire have not been confirmed. Lora said in a separate Facebook Live firefighters are battling chlorine.

The fire chief also said much of the building where the fire originated has collapsed within itself. The fire was in buildings housing plastics, pallets and chlorine, officials said, but Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost said the part where most of the chlorine was stored appeared to under control.

Chlorine is not combustible on its own, but can make a fire more intense, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A fire with chlorine can also “produce irritating, corrosive, and/or toxic gases.”

Twitter user @Ameer shared video of the fire and its spread with NewsNation that shows the scope of its impact as the smoke expands out of frame.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy took to Twitter to address the danger, telling those nearby to 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,” Murphy wrote. “Praying for the safety of our first responders on the scene.”

One firefighter was taken to a hospital after getting hit in the face with debris, but was doing well, Trentacost said. Many other firefighters had slipped and fell while battling the flames as water used to tamp down the fire turned to ice. The chief estimated temperatures were in the teens.

The Department of Environmental Protection was on scene assessing air quality. As of 3:30 a.m., the air quality levels were deemed acceptable, and evacuations were not needed, he said.

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.

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