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Firefighters Could Spend Days Putting Out Hot Spots After New Jersey Recycling Center Fire, Officials Say

PASSAIC, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Firefighters spent hours working on a huge fire at a recycling center in New Jersey on Saturday, and it could take several days before the fire is entirely out.

The recycling plant in Passaic went up in flames around 11:30 p.m. Friday, and nearly 24 hours later, the fire continued to burn.

The five-acre commercial warehouse belongs to Atlantic Coast Fibers, a recycling plant headquartered in Passaic.

Firefighters said the flames were first detected in the middle of the warehouse in a pile of cardboard bales.

"This kind of combustibles in the building like this, that fire took off pretty quick," Passaic Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost said.

Fire officials say workers responded quickly.

"It looks like they tried to put it out themselves, so it might've been a little delayed. Sprinkler system was activated, but it really wasn't doing much," Trentacost said.

A recycling center in Passaic went up in flames on Jan. 29, 2021. (Credit: CBS2)

In addition to large amounts of plastic and cardboard fuel, firefighters say there were also combustible materials which triggered several explosions.

"Firefighters realized that we could not make any headway, and the fire was getting up and over us into the roof. We had to back out," Trentacost said.

Firefighters say they've responded to this facility before and that fires are not uncommon in recycling plants.

"A lot of oils get on the recycling, the cardboard that they pick up on the streets in the sanitation trucks. So, battery acid can start a fire. A lot of factors," Trentacost said.

The plant is likely a total loss.

"It looks like it is a total loss... It's collapsing in, a lot of inward collapse from the roof," said Trentacost.

Firefighters faced many challenges, including the cold, wind and flammable materials inside.

"Tremendous, they did a great job. They fought this fire against the worst possible conditions," Trentacost said.

One firefighter was taken to a local hospital with minor injuries. Several others were treated on the scene for hypothermia and from slipping and falling on ice, CBS2's Kiran Dhillon reports.

Watch Christina Fan's report --

Officials add it is likely crews will be on the scene for the next several days to put out hotspots and investigate how the fire started.

"Operating well over 150 firefighters, again, from five counties. We're going to be here probably for the next couple of days," Trenacost said. "It's a very deep-seated fire, a very large area."

The fire did not spread to any surrounding buildings.

"It's contained  to the property. It's not going to go anywhere. Certainly we're surrounding it now," Trentacost said.

Passaic Mayor Hector C. Lora says at least 70 employees are impacted.

"We're in a year of a pandemic where so many individuals have faced challenges," he said. "Now you have over 70 individuals that are wondering what happens tomorrow. I don't have a job to go to, so that's a concern."

The mayor adds the business has been a staple in the community for about 80 years.

"We want to see them rebuild and come back, but all of those things can be replaced. What cannot be replaced is life, and by the grace of God, we have had no loss of life," Lora said.

The cause is still under investigation, but the fire chief doesn't believe it appears to be suspicious.

CBS2's Christina Fan and Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report.


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