The fire broke out around 1:19 a.m. in a building on Broadway near 36th Street. Officials said the fire possibly started in the back of a second-floor unit before spreading to two other buildings.
Forty-two-year-old Ruvee Yao was found unresponsive, removed from the building and pronounced dead.
Yao owned 973 Broadway and taught kids at a tutoring center on the first floor.
The fire burned for more than three hours before firefighters were able to bring it under control. Three firefighters were treated for minor injuries at Bayonne Hospital.
The fire left sixteen people homeless, including Nancy Hymer, who managed to get out alive with her dog.
"Really shaken up, lost everything, lost my friend who lived in the building, really devastated about that. I lost all my cats," she said.
Hymer said she and her neighbors watched as their homes burn. Mama Rosa's Pizzeria also burned, with Mama Rosa herself looking on.
"I don't know what I'm going to do. We have to find a place to live," she said. "I don't know what we're going to do, I don't even know what we're going to do tonight."
A local bar, Refinery Tavern, let neighbors take shelter, said Christian Hoffman.
"I closed everyone out, told them they had to go, and we let the residents of the three houses come in and get some juice, get some water, use the bathroom," he said.
In the meantime, members of this close-knit Bayonne community are leaning on one another to get through.
"The businesses can always rebuild, but you can never replace a life. Anytime you have a fatality in your city, whether it's a fire or anything else, it's something that the whole community feels," said Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation but officials said it does not appear to be suspicious.
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