EDGEWATER, N.J. — More than 15 hours after a massive five-alarm fire started at an apartment complex — eventually gutting the four-story building and displacing nearly 1,000 people — dense smoke continued to build above the wreckage as firefighters sprayed water onto the building this morning.
Streets around the site remained cordoned off and the smoke could be smelled as far away as Manhattan. More than a dozen news crews were parked nearby.
There were no deaths or serious injuries reported in the blaze. The mayor has declared a state of emergency and schools throughout the borough will be closed today, and access to local roads is limited.
Leonia’s high school and middle school, where Edgewater students attend grades 6 through 12, have canceled bus service today because of the fire, Leonia Police Chief Thomas Rowe said. The high school also has a half day today due to the blaze.
The blaze at 102 Russell Ave., called the Avalon at Edgewater complex, began around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. Although it was considered under control around 11 p.m., about 230 firefighters from 35 departments remained at the scene until nearly 7 a.m., Bergen County Fire Coordinator Larry Rauch said. That includes fire boats from New York City and Jersey City.
John Sterling, the longtime play-by-play announcer for the New York Yankees, was among those who had lived at the Avalon at Edgewater complex. He took refuge in a nearby hotel.
The Red Cross has opened a reception center at the Edgewater Community Center at 1167 River Road for displaced families. The Bergen County Humane Society has also opened a pet shelter at the neighboring American Legion.
About 240 families from the Russell Avenue apartment building have been displaced by the fire, according to the Red Cross. An additional 168 families from a neighboring building were evacuated and may be able to return if the building is deemed safe and utilities are restored.
The police chief said the cause of the fire was not known, but officials are investigating reports that plumbers had been working in the area where it seemed to have started — in a wall of an apartment on the first floor at the south end of the structure.
Officials also said investigators would be looking into a series of explosive pops, accompanied by flashes of blue flame, as firefighters struggled to gain control of the massive wall of flame that forced them over and over to retreat from different sections of the building’s interior. Even though the gas to the building was turned off early in the effort, there could have been pockets of it left in the pipes inside, officials said.
The apartment complex is on the site of the former Alcoa aluminum plant, where millions of aluminum cans and other products were manufactured until the plant closed in 1967. The plant, which was vacant for three decades, was demolished in the late 1990s in a project that included a cleanup of PCBs that had contaminated the land.
A $75 million apartment complex called Avalon River Mews was under construction on the site when a fire broke out on Aug. 30, 2000. The fire, one of the largest in Bergen County history, spread quickly and engulfed homes across the street on Undercliff Avenue. Nine homes were destroyed and several others damaged, along with more than a dozen cars. Thirty-nine families were displaced.
The complex’s parent company, AvalonBay Communities, also has apartments in Bloomingdale, Hackensack, Lyndhurst, North Bergen, Rutherford and Wood-Ridge.
The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) staff writers Abbott Koloff, Marina Villeneuve and Minjae Park contributed to this report.