'Wall of fire': New Jersey blaze engulfs home, damages church

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- Firefighters battled a four-alarm blaze in New Jersey Wednesday morning that completely engulfed a vacant building and spread to neighboring structures.

The flames broke out around 10 a.m. on Hopper Street in Paterson, with witnesses describing it like a wall of fire.

The fire was so intense that anyone or anything near the blaze was pushed back by the heat, and at least two other buildings -- including a nearby church -- were also damaged.

The fire began in an abandoned church parsonage that had another fire back in November, and the first firefighters on the scene focused their attention of saving the 68-year-old Christ Temple Baptist Church, where the window frames were on fire and the roof was smoking.

"There's some damage to the pews, there's some damage to the rugs," Rev. Weldon Williams IV said. "It's all on that side of the church, on that particular side of the church. So it's not the whole church sanctuary, thank God."

Some church members who live nearby came out to see the damage.

"A friend of mine called me, text me, and said the church was on fire," Angela Watson said. "And I'm like, my kids are in the house, and I'm just worried about getting back to my house to my kids."

The heat from the fire started to burn a fire truck parked in front of the blaze, and firefighters had to turn some attention to saving the truck. One firefighter working from a tower ladder suffered third-degree burns on his face and hand.

The flames also melted the vinyl siding of several homes, including a couple located across the street from the church.

The two wooden homes that were destroyed were not occupied, but the Red Cross is assisting three families whose homes were damaged when the siding melted.

"The fact that this fire did not spread to these buildings across here, buildings down the block, and that church is a testament to the men and women of the Paterson Fire Department," Chief Brian McDermott said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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