The fire broke out at about 5 p.m. Wednesday at the plant on Market Street and went to eight alarms.
Huge paper rolls in the warehouse were fully engulfed in flames, and the roof collapsed. All emergency responders were pulled from the building for safety reasons.
The fire spread to propane tanks and other combustibles. Firefighters eventually decided to just let the fire burn itself out though it continued to smolder throughout the day.
Black smoke could be seen from as far away as Route 80 in Hackensack.
About 300 firefighters responded, but the strong wind and frigid temperatures made their efforts that much more difficult.
"The main ingredient there is the wind and that just feeds a flame and feeds a fire and causes it to spread rapidly," said Elmwood Park Police Chief Michael Foligno.
There have been no reports of injuries. Firefighters from at least 50 localities in the area responded.
Gov. Phil Murphy toured the site Thursday to see the devastation first-hand and promised to assist the hundreds of Marcal workers who lost their jobs when the plant burned to the ground.
"What happened was an extraordinary calamity, and thank God no injuries or no loss of lives," said Murphy.
A demolition crew will go into the building and pull apart more of the rubble so that firefighters can extinguish more hot spots.
Fire officials were concerned about embers from the blaze affecting nearby homes and businesses on River Drive, at the east end of the factory.
Residents who live near the plant were evacuated from their homes as a safety precaution.
Stuart Cameron, who lives just five homes down from the plant, said he knew from the start they would have to evacuate.
"The wind was blowing it right towards our house," said Cameron. "Chunks of burning paper falling down onto the roofs, the trees, the grass. The grass, constantly having to stomp out the fire."
The fire caused heavy smoke condition on area roads, and the ramp on I-80 to Exit 61 was closed in both directions. The road closures have prompted area schools to close for Thursday.
A passenger took a photo of the fire as his plane was approaching Newark Airport.
New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell said he would be visiting the site to offer help to the community and the affected employees.
I am monitoring this terrible situation closely. I thank God for our first responders this frigid night. They are in my prayers. I will be visiting the site as soon as possible and offering any help that we can to the community and what could be almost 500 affected employees.— Bill Pascrell, Jr. (@BillPascrell) January 31, 2019
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
The fire is the second reported this month at the plant. In 2017, more than 100 firefighters were called to extinguish a blaze there.
Rob Baron, President and Chief Executive Officer of Soundview Paper Company, issued the following statement about the fire:
"On Wednesday afternoon, a devastating fire engulfed our mill in Elmwood Park. In the hours that followed, first responders from multiple surrounding communities exhibited extraordinary bravery, commitment and skill - risking their lives fighting this terrible blaze in frigid conditions. We are enormously grateful for their selfless service. The full extent of the damage to our facility is not yet known, but we know the impact will be incalculable to the lives of our dedicated workers and our business as a whole. We are fortunate and thankful that none of the nearly 200 employees working at the mill at the time of the fire were injured, and we are assisting the first responders on site in every way we can. Our top priority in the coming days and weeks will be to support our associates at Marcal whose lives will be directly impacted by this disaster. We will have further updates as the situation unfolds."
* More New Jersey news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube