Watch CBS News

Fire Destroys Hundreds Of Units In Edgewater, New Jersey Apartment Complex

EDGEWATER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- An extra-alarm fire devoured an apartment complex and left hundreds of people homeless Wednesday evening in Edgewater, New Jersey.

As CBS2's Jessica Schneider reported, the gargantuan blaze stretched for three city blocks. Late Tuesday night, sections of the apartment complex made the sound of small explosions as they collapsed.

Edgewater Mayor Michael McPartland said a state of local emergency has been declared for the municipality. Local schools will be closed on Thursday, and roads access will be restricted until further notice.

The fire broke out around 4:30 p.m. At 6:05 p.m., all that was seen was smoke coming from one apartment window, when Chopper 2 was over the scene during CBS2's 6 p.m. newscast, flames were seen raging on several floors of one building at 102 Russell Ave.

That was only the beginning. By 7:15 p.m., balls of fire were shooting into the sky.

PHOTOS: Edgewater, N.J. Apartment Complex Fire

The fire was raised to more than five alarms as embers spread and structures collapsed, according to Edgewater police. The fire grew so large that the flames were visible from Midtown Manhattan -- and were even being picked up on the weather radar late Wednesday night.

People gasped at the scene on their ferry rides home along the Hudson River.

Fire Destroys Hundreds Of Units In Edgewater, New Jersey Apartment Complex

"I came here around 5:30, and basically there wasn't that much of a fire, but it was just smoke," said complex resident Hamza Alkhayyat. "But now, as you can see, it's horrible."

Embers rose to 500 feet, and the smoke rose to 1,000 or 1,500 feet. The fire was so intense that the embers were raining down on the nearby Edgewater Cemetery, setting parts of the graveyard ablaze too.

While CBS2's crews stood just feet away, the flames jumped from building to building.

Numerous fire departments from surrounding towns were called in to fight the blaze, and numerous streets in the area were closed.

Fire crews from Bogota, New Jersey doused an apartment complex just a few hundred feet away with water, fearing the flames could jump and spread even more.

Firefighters raced to carry people out and evacuate people inside.

"This is probably the biggest one I've ever seen," said Bogota fire Battalion Chief Joe DiMauro.

McPartland said in all, about 175 mid-rise units were destroyed, and between 350 and 400 people were displaced.

Cellphone video showed a firefighter carrying a resident of the complex.

Among the residents of the complex was Yankees announcer John Sterling, who talked to CBS2 about his experience.

"I walked to the building and smelled smoke, and I went out to my floor where my apartment is, and the smoke was so bad I couldn't see, and I thought, 'Hey, we'd better get out of here,'" Sterling said.

Sterling said he will not know until Thursday if there is anything left of his apartment.

Meanwhile, the water situation at the scene was also proving very problematic in fighting the blaze, according to a fire battalion chief from nearby Bogota.

"If you hit the hydrant in so many locations, it lowers the pressure," said Bogota Fire Battalion Chief Joe DiMauro. "Not a lot of water."

About 2,000 customers were also left without power during the fire.

Only minor injuries were reported, and there was no loss of life, McPartland said.

A fire also ripped through the very same complex when it was under construction back on Aug. 30, 2000. As CBS2's Tracee Carrasco reported, the complex was rebuilt only to be destroyed again Wednesday night.

"It's ridiculous…. It was just as big, I mean, if not bigger," said Edgewater resident Mike Khoury. "It was the biggest fire in Bergen County."

In 2000, the Avalon at Edgewater apartments looked like the aftermath of a bomb. An entire block was engulfed in flames.

Back then, the August fire started at the construction site for the $50 million, five-story condominium complex -- which was unoccupied at the time. It jumped the street quickly and spread to nearby homes, destroying at least eight of them and displacing as many as 70 people.

"Terrifying – you know, you always think about what you're going to grab first. Total blank – you don't even know what you're doing. You just stand there in total amazement," one woman told CBS2's Lou Young during the 2000 fire. "You don't even know what to grab. You just gaze."

The heartbreaking feeling that many felt back then was repeating itself eerily Wednesday night.

"Everybody else is OK, so, you know, there are just stuff. You can always buy stuff," Alkhayyat said. "But you can't buy your health and well-being. So thank God."

The cause and origin of the Wednesday night fire will be determined at a later time, Bergen County Executive James Tedesco said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.