The downtown business district lay in smoldering ruins early Friday, ravaged by a wind-driven fire that destroyed two blocks of businesses and apparently killed one firefighter.
The blaze broke out in a clothing store shortly before 6 a.m. Thursday. Fed by wind gusts of 25 mph or more, it burned furiously for 10 hours before it was contained. The fire continued to burn early Friday.One firefighter was missing and presumed dead, officials said.
Authorities said they still could not enter the smoking ruins of 24 businesses late Thursday, and the cause of the fire had not been determined.
It caused at least $13 million damage, said Mayor William J. Pascrell Jr.
"We're talking about a major disaster here," he said. "It will have a tremendous impact - it's the heart of the downtown shopping area."
Gov. Jim Florio was to visit the site Friday. Passaic County officals have asked him to declare an emergency so business owners can qualify for federal loans.
The fire broke out at the Underground II women's clothing store and quickly spread across an entire block, then jumped to the next block.
"I saw all this smoke and next thing you know, all these buildings were on fire,' said Johnny Gonzalez, 27. "There were fire trucks coming from everywhere."
The Alexander Hamilton Hotel, two blocks away from the fire, was evacuated because of heavy smoke. Seventeen families and 30 single people took shelter at a nearby elementary school.
A woman passer-by was treated at a local hospital for smoke inhalation. Pascrell, who spent several hours at the fire scene, said he was treated for smoke inhalation and elevated blood pressure.