Fire burns through row of businesses in Passaic

PASSAIC, New Jersey (WABC) -- A six-alarm fire burned through a strip of businesses in Passaic, sending six firefighters to the hospital.

The fire is believed to have broken out in the kitchen of the El Chevere Restaurant just after 10 p.m. Monday night.

The fire burned through a string of at least six businesses, mostly run by immigrants, along Lexington Avenue between Monroe and Quincy streets.

"It's sad, very sad, because it's not easy to restart," business owner Heidi Tito said.

Tito is one of several business owners now forced to start from scratch.

Firefighters battled the flames and the humidity, which kept the smoke low and pushed the fire across the row of businesses.

"The fire was ahead of us in the ceiling, but we managed to get up to the roof real quick and attempt to open the roof up," Passaic Fire Battalion Chief John Hayowyk said. "We had fire running the roof at that time, so we had to evacuate everybody from the roof, pull everybody off and we had to go to defensive operations."

Six firefighters were treated and released for minor heat related injuries.

The fire was brought under control early Tuesday morning, and now, the devastation is coming into focus.

"Frank called me this morning to say, 'Turn on the news,'" said Arlene Freedman, who works with the company that manages the entire block. "I said, 'What are you talking about?'"

Now, the company is vowing to help the immigrant entrepreneurs.

"The restaurants are totally demolished," Freedman said. "The buildings are burned all the way through. I don't quite know what is going to happen with them."

Among those destroyed was Rosa Pagan's hair salon.

In Spanish, she said she's owned the business for 20 years, two decades of work wiped out in one night.

No one in any of the businesses was injured. Many were already closed for the night, but several had to be evacuated.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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