5-alarm Passaic fire displaces 20 families; 2 firefighters hurt

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Toni Yates has the story

A smoky five-alarm fire that started in a commercial building in Passaic forced 20 families out of their homes indefinitely.

The flames broke out inside a one-story building on First Street just after 10 p.m. Tuesday, located right behind an apartment building on Market Street.

Several firefighters sustained minor injuries during the six-and-a-half-hour fight to bring the blaze under control.

Fourteen-year-old Itar Molina and his mother were among those displaced.

"We don't have clothes," he said. "I just bought this. No shoes. I got this at the store for $14."

The fire may have started with a malfunction of the air-cleaning system.

"It appears that this was repackaging of spices, which is part of the investigation," Passaid Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost said. "We want to focus on the area near the exhaust, possibly particles in the air, not sure, but possible."

A few of the families that had to be evacuated overnight were allowed to re-enter their apartments to retrieve some of their belongings. Most, however, were told it may be two or three days before it's safe to go inside."

"They say we can't, because it's so much water upstairs," one resident said.

The fire went to five alarms, with 12 fire companies from Bergen and Passaic responding and 144 firefighters in all working at the scene. Two firefighters who suffered minor injuries are out of the hospital, recovering at home. Mayor Hector Lora commended the firefighters and neighbors, who brought food and blankets to victims.

"The participation and help and support of the community went a long way to make sure that we are here today," he said. "We haven't lost lives, and our two firefighters are well."

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