Two hundred firefighters responded to the blaze, said Hector C. Lora, the mayor of Passaic, which is located about 10 miles from Manhattan. By Saturday, firefighters were focusing on dousing the last remaining pockets of fire, he said.
“The firefighters’ tremendous response and efforts are the reason why we are not dealing with a massive catastrophe that would have resulted in hundreds and hundreds of individuals and families evacuated in the middle of a pandemic,” Lora said.
He added that officials were confident the fire is “contained and controlled,” though not yet completely extinguished: “And that’s why we will continue to shoot it with water and probably be there at least for the rest of today.”
Majestic Industries stocks some 3 million pounds of potentially hazardous substances on an average day, according to a 2020 inventory list sent to New Jersey regulators. Firefighters fought to prevent the flames from reaching the main chemical plant at the facility — which could have endangered the densely populated New York City suburbs of New Jersey.
A section of the more than 200,000-square-foot building caved down, and fire officials said there were concerns about structural issues in other areas of the building.
Neither Majestic Industries nor Qualco Inc. immediately responded to requests for comment.
On Friday night, the local fire department asked residents to stay clear of the scene, and Gov. Phil Murphy (D) urged people living nearby to close their windows. However, health and environment officials assessed the air quality and “determined that right now there are acceptable levels, so there is no reason to evacuate,” Lora said in a broadcast around 3:30 a.m.
In the nearby township of Wallington, a mile away from the blaze, embers blew across the Passaic River and started small fires in yards, said Wallington Police Chief Carmello Imbruglia. He said local firefighters sprayed water over the river to prevent cinders from landing in the area.
Gusts of around 15 mph were recorded early Saturday, and New York City’s emergency notification system noted that residents may see or smell smoke coming from the flames, which were visible from a distance.
The winds challenged operations Saturday, Lora said. The frigid weather has also troubled efforts to contain the blaze. With a winter storm sweeping toward the Northeast, in Passaic temperatures have dipped below 20 degrees — freezing water from hoses and making it more difficult to use fire hydrants.
Despite of the potential for chaos, the fire resulted in no deaths. A first responder was taken to a hospital for an eye injury after he was hit in the face with debris, but Passaic Fire Department Chief Patrick Trentacost said the man was doing well. No other injuries have been reported and police in nearby towns warned residents to stay indoors until the fire was under control.
There was no one in the building, Trentacost said, which was used to store plastics and pellets. A security guard who was onsite was accounted for.
Lora cautioned that establishing the cause of the fire could take some time, given that “we won’t be able to fully inspect until fire is completely put out.” But at a time when recent fires in nearby New York City and Philadelphia have resulted in over two dozen deaths, the mayor said he was grateful a crisis had been averted.
“So much could’ve gone wrong, but to not have a single loss of life in this fire is so important,” he said. “I’m so thankful for how everyone in the community stepped up to protect and preserve the lives of our residents.”