Joseph Mata heard his mother's cries.
"I just rushed and made sure I took my dog," Mata said.
He took shelter at a nearby relative's house as a vacant home collapsed just moments after firefighters arrived.
Paterson Fire Chief Brian McDermott says crews showed up in seconds.
"Firefighters from Riverside firehouse were outside barbecuing when they looked up, and saw something more than a steak burning," McDermott said.
The four-alarm fire jumped from the abandoned building to an adjacent multi-family home, and Exodus Baptist Church.
Pastor Samuel Jackson says his workers got several children inside the church's daycare center to safety. Now, with heavy water damage to the building, he is not sure when care or Sunday worship will resume.
"The daycare was our salvation - helped us pay the bills," Jackson said.
Residents have complained about the vacant building for years.
"It was witnessed that there were alleged squatters in the area - not going to rule anything out," added McDermott.
Jackson, who has been with the church since its inception in 1995 is now leaning on faith.
"I have faith in God, I'll trust we will be all right," he said.
It is believed the fire started in the abandoned building.
Authorities say one elderly woman was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation.
The Red Cross is assisting four people who have been displaced.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
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