It is unclear whether a Fifth Street building that was ravaged by fire on Monday afternoon will be deemed fit for rehabilitation or condemned, said North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue fire director Jeff Welz this past week.
“It was a brick building, which is promising,” said Welz, “but that was a pretty intense fire.”
About 32 families were displaced by the fire, which began after 3 p.m. on Monday at a residential building at 411 Bergenline Avenue. A grocery store was located on the ground floor.
Sixty-two people, including a 93-year-old woman, had to leave the building. Also, two neighboring buildings were deemed unfit for habitation, forcing residents of 12 apartments out, said Diane Concannon, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross.
Union City and Red Cross officials set up a temporary shelter at the Jose Marti Freshman Academy until the victims were able to arrange to stay with friends or family. About 27 of the displaced residents are still being housed in the shelter, said Concannon.
“Thank God [the fire] wasn't in the middle of the night.” -Union City Chief of Police Brian Barrett
Residents from six other buildings in the area were evacuated as well, but were allowed to return to their homes late Monday night.
Stack on the scene
Union City Mayor Brian Stack was at the scene as the fire raged late Monday afternoon, consulting with emergency workers. He also visited the shelter and spoke with victims several times since Monday. On Tuesday, Stack announced that people wishing to help the victims could make a donation to the Union City Fire Victims’ Fund.
“Making this tragedy even greater is that these families are experiencing such loss during the holiday season,” Stack said. “I am hopeful that the Union City family recognizes this as a great loss and will lend support when it is most needed, just as the community has done in the past.”
North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue (NHRFR) squads arrived on the scene soon after the fire started, Welz said. Around 5 or 10 minutes after the firefighters' arrival, the fire reached the roof of the building, which began to collapse.
“The roofing material was petroleum-based, unfortunately,” said Welz, “so that meant that even if the fire was in the one apartment, as soon as it reached the roof, the whole building caught.”
Fire engines arrived from various North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue firehouses and from Jersey City. Three engines raised their ladders and shot an estimated 3,000 gallons of water per minute onto the blaze until it was brought under control around 8 p.m.
Unfortunately, as is the case with many fires, the battle caused severe water damage to the entire building, especially those floors untouched by the fire. The food market and hair salon on the ground floor of the building are currently closed.
The fire started on the fourth and top floor of the building, possibly in the southeast corner apartment, said Union City Chief of Police Brian Barrett.
"That's what we're hearing from the fire department," said Barrett. "We definitely got everyone out though. Thank God it wasn't in the middle of the night."
Though the cause of the fire was not yet determined, state-appointed arson investigators and agents from the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Agency were on the scene Tuesday.
“That’s not to say there’s any suspicion of anything,” said Welz. “It’s procedure that they all come down, but we won’t know anything for probably a while because they can’t even get into the apartment around the debris from the roof.”
Welz said that the man who lived in the apartment where the fire may have started was also on the scene, and was cooperating with authorities.
There were concerns that one person, a 93-year-old woman, had not been evacuated, but following a quick investigation it was discovered that she was with friends in an apartment across the street.
Donations for the displaced families should be mailed to Union City Fire Victims’ Fund, ℅ City Hall, 3715 Palisade Avenue, Union City, NJ 07087.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org