Homes destroyed by fire in Jersey City

April 9, 2012 4:31:18 AM PDT
Five firefighters were hurt and 52 residents were displaced after a massive fire destroyed or severely damaged at least 10 row homes in Jersey City.

It was an inferno that began in the middle of the night, while everyone on Claremont Avenue was sleeping.

"It's a total disaster, chaos, everything is over, there's nothing in there that I can get," said one resident, Savitree Mangre.

That's because the fire that started in the basement of #349, as one official put it, traveled at lightning speed.

It raced through a row of 10 attached homes in a matter of minutes, its chosen path of destruction: the shared cockloft.

"Once it gets into that ceiling, especially if it's fed by a wind, it's very difficult to contain," said Jersey City Fire Chief Charles Donaghue.

Dozens of firefighters battled the six-alarm blaze, and it took more than three hours to bring it under control.

"There was so much flame and so much smoke, they had to literally bring the firemen back down, they were trapped over on the corner house," said resident Victor Catano.

From the backside of the homes, it's clear just how devastating this fire was, something that deeply concerns neighbors.

Sources tell Eyewitness News that the first engine that would have responded, from a station house about two blocks away, was off duty due to budget cuts.

Instead, we're told a different engine from further away arrived.

"It definitely terrifies me that the fire department is at a budget crisis and very slimly manned," said neighbor Tom Ramirez.

But a fire department spokesperson insists the off duty engine not being in service had no effect on response time, saying that crews arrived in roughly four minutes, and by then fire was already shooting through multiple roofs.

Once teams knocked down the fire, people were briefly able to get in and take out what little was left.

The injuries suffered by the firefighters were not considered life-threatening, though all were being treated at a hospital.

Officials say most of the displaced residents were planning to stay with friends and family, but the American Red Cross of Northern New Jersey was helping the rest find temporary housing.

The group was also providing all residents with financial aid and other assistance.


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