According to North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue Co-Director Jeff Welz, who was on the scene and was covered head to toe in ice, the fire broke out at approximately 5:45 a.m. at a vacant warehouse located on the North Bergen side of Kennedy Boulevard and 57th Street, directly between a four-story factory complex to the north and the Flower Hill Cemetery to the south.
"We received the first call at 5:45 a.m. and our first trucks arrived within minutes," Welz said. "Although it was a vacant building, we had reports that there were homeless people living inside of the building and we also have reports of people fleeing the scene after the fire broke out. It is a massive building, like 100 by 150 feet, so it could have held a lot of people. We don't know how many were in there. As far as we know, there were no utilities in the building, so we have no idea how a fire like this could have started."
Welz said that the conditions were treacherous because of the weather and that the burning building produced huge amounts of billowing smoke that stretched across Kennedy Boulevard and caused one unnamed firefighter to say, "It looked like Armageddon."
"It was a dangerous fire, especially since we don't know the contents of the building," Welz said. "With the ice and smoke, it was very dangerous. Since the building was next to the cemetery, we had no access from the rear, so we had to fight the fire from the sides and try to protect the factory next door. We could only attack the fire from the two sides, which made it difficult."
By about 7:30 a.m., Welz said that the three units on the scene had "contained" the blaze to the one structure and it didn't seem likely that the intense fire would spread to the adjacent factory.
The smoke was getting to the firefighters, who were seen to take intermitted breaks while combating the blaze, as some of them were simply overcome with the intense smoke that was impenetrable.
"The firefighters did a tremendous job keeping it from spreading," Welz said. "There were high winds, which caused problems."
At least two engines from Jersey City aided in the firefighting attempts, pushing the fire to a three-alarm status.
Several onlookers were amazed at the intensity of the fire.
Carlos Quintanilla of West New York parked his truck in the lot adjacent to the vacant warehouse. He wanted to know if he could get to his truck to move it, but he was not permitted to interfere with the firefighting efforts. So Quintanilla had to sit and wait.
"I just hope the truck doesn't burn," Quintanilla said. "I just bought the truck. It's my business in the truck. It's why I wanted to go and move it, but they say it's too dangerous to go get it."
Quintanilla did admit that the conditions were treacherous. "I'd go in there to get the truck, but I'd be scared," he said.
Welz said that the structure, which was L-shaped, also caused some concerns for the firefighters. "It comes out on one side and that side is touching the factory," Welz said. "Our concern was containing the fire before it reached the factory, and I think we were successful."
Once the fire was officially extinguished, fire inspectors and officials set out to determine a cause for the blaze that caused Kennedy Boulevard to be closed in both directions during the Thursday morning rush hour, forcing traffic on the county's most traveled road to be detoured through West New York's streets.
At 9 a.m. Thursday, there were no reports of serious injuries to anyone, except two firefighters who either suffered smoke inhalation or fell on the ice trying to fight the fire.