The five-alarm fire started on 49th Street in Weehawken just after 5 p.m. Thursday.
But as more than 100 firefighters tried to tackle the flames, the fire jumped from one neighboring home to the next.
The sides of a fourth home were sizzling when firefighters finally got things under control.
At least seven families were forced out.
Officials said 12 firefighters suffered minor injuries.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation.
The Elk's Lodge in Weehawken planned to collect clothes, toys, and household items for the victims on Friday from 6 to 11 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 11 p.m. The lodge is located at 2 50th Street.