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Dozens of people displaced by early morning fire in Plainfield, New Jersey

Some tenants allowed to return to Plainfield building damaged by fire
Some tenants allowed to return to Plainfield building damaged by fire 03:09

PLAINFIELD, N.J. -- It was an emotional Monday night for dozens of families in Plainfield who were impacted by a fire earlier in the day.

Some were told they could return, despite significant damage to the building. Others waited hours to find a place to stay.

Flames shot from the third floor of the building on West Seventh Street early Monday morning, illuminating the sky and forcing residents to run for their lives.

Hours later, some of them were able to temporarily return, only to discover the charred insides of the places they once called home.

Most of the 130 people who were initially displaced did return to the building and restoration crews were attempting to clean up.

Burnt bunkbeds and keepsakes were all that was left behind in the third-floor apartment where the fire started.

"They were found on the stairs unconscious. They said they didn't feel when the alarm, when the alarm went on, they were asleep. When they woke up, it was late," volunteer Sonia Varillas said.

Varillas described the smoky, dangerous conditions her close family friends woke up to at around 5 a.m. She said some even had to jump from the fire escapes on the side of the building. People had to be hospitalized. Officials have ruled out arson as the cause of the two-alarm blaze, and think it might be either electrical or from an e-bike battery.

"We don't have no heaters, and it's cold. Especially at night in our rooms it's cold. We don't have one yet," resident Vivian Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez's family moved to 515 W. Seventh St. in August, when the building next door, under the same owner, Cyclone Investments LLC, was condemned due to poor conditions. Now, residents here have had complaints about no heat.

"I cannot undo what has been done years and years of not taking care of it," property manager Magda Vasquez said.

Vasquez has been property manager for four months. Tenant Carolina Aquino brought her to her leaking basement apartment after the Plainfield Fire Department told her it was safe for her to come back in. She was trying to get on the list for aid from the Red Cross.

"They said I can live there, but how could I live there? The apartment isn't livable," she said in Spanish.

Later, the mother of three got on the list of families getting financial assistance vouchers for the next few days. The Plainfield Performing Arts Center was made into a resource center to help find them shelter.

For now, Vasquez has been the voice of the building's owners, who she said were never on site Monday.

"This is a new owner. He really wants to take care of it. He really wants to make these apartments good. If they give me a chance, I'll get it done," Vasquez said.

A city spokesperson told CBS New York there were some violations discovered at the building and that the landlord was supposed to fix them. We've reached out to the property owner, Cyclone Investments LLC, but it hasn't returned our request for comment.

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