5-alarm fire rages through NJ apartment complex

September 13, 2010 4:07:05 AM PDT
A five-alarm fire burned inside a large apartment complex in Orange, New Jersey, Sunday.

"I started freaking out, I just grabbed my daughter and ran out," resident Barbara Pierre said.

When faced with the inferno, Pierre had no choice but to make split-second decisions.

"It felt like it was coming from underneath us, we weren't sure, yeah a lot of smoke coming from that window," Wisdom Pierre said.

Inside the Pierre's fifth-floor apartment, flames and smoke quickly took over.

"I lost my son's pictures, lost everything," Barbara Pierre said. "He's 5 months old. I'm not going to see him when he was a baby."

Many living at 399 Lincoln Avenue heard the fire alarm just before 8 a.m. Some almost ignored it.

They say there are so many false calls, but this was the real thing.

"I was stunned, put on jeans, this jacket and ran," resident Gail Velox said.

Officials believe the fire started in the southeast section of the H-shaped building in a top floor apartment.

Crews scrambled as flames jumped to the other half of the building.

"There's about a four-foot section on top of the apartments, it's basically like a lumber yard once it gets in there it takes off," Orange Fire Department Deputy Chief Robert Managanelli said.

Firefighters say one big stumbling block was the lack of water pressure.

They initially pulled from only one grid, but the blaze was relentless.

For most of the afternoon, crews could only safely fight the fire from far outside.

In time, more companies arrived and stretched hoses for blocks.

Some eight hours after it started, they finally seemed to get in front of it.

"The contents of what's in the apartment, I can replace," resident Gale Alexander said. "My life I can't. So grateful for the almighty Father."

A few firefighters suffered minor injuries.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

At least 100 people were evacuated from the area, and a local high school was opened as a temporary shelter.

Officials said there are 95 units total in the four affected buildings.