According to NHRFR Co-Director Jeff Welz, the cause of the massive fire has yet to be determined.
"The investigation is ongoing," Welz said. "We have to find out how a fire at a building under reconstruction could spread so rapidly. We have taken some samples from the basement and we're awaiting the tests to see if any accelerants were found. But the cause is currently undetermined."
The owner of the building, Salvatore Mazzeo of Union City, had received a construction code permit just three months ago from the township's building department for a complete demolition of the interior and to rebuild from within.
According to Welz, the NHRFR was first notified of the fire at 520 Hudson Ave. around 2 a.m. when neighbors ran and banged on the door of the Engine No. 3 firehouse located within a block of the structure.
"One of the firefighters noticed heavy smoke and the glow of a fire, so he called in for another alarm right away," Welz said.
Another neighbor called 911 almost at the same time, so the NHRFR's fire control sent out another alarm right away.
"By the time that engine pulled out of the firehouse, the glow of the fire was seen throughout the neighborhood," Welz said.
When the firefighters arrived, they assessed that the magnitude of the fire would place them in danger if they remained in the building.
"There was no stairwell to get to the second floor," Welz said. "The support structures were burned and weakened. The floor was burned through to expose holes in the floor. One of the firefighters got his foot stuck in a hole in the floor."
At that point, Deputy Fire Chief Eric Inauen made the call to remove all firefighters from the structure and launch an exterior attack.
"With all the exposed wood, it caused a rapid spread and a dangerous situation," Welz said. "The deputy chief made the right call to get our men out of there. The entire building was engulfed and there was danger of the roof collapsing with the men inside. Once the fire took hold of the building, it became a vertical lumber yard of flames."
The fire burned for almost three hours before NHRFR fire officials declared it under control. Remarkably, the fire was contained solely to the structure under reconstruction and did not spread to a building next door, less than four feet away.
"We were very lucky that a fire of this magnitude didn't spread further to adjacent buildings," Welz said. "The men did a great job in containing this fire, because it was a very dangerous fire."
One NHRFR firefighter was injured, but was treated at the scene and released. The fire caused such extensive damage that Weehawken building officials declared the remaining structure unsafe, an imminent hazard, and it was torn down Sunday morning.
"It was a vacant building, so all that was left standing were the supports," Welz said. "It had to come down."