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Massive Fire Destroys Passaic Paper Recycling Plant

By DAMIEN DANIS, Senior Correspondent | January 29, 2021 | NEW JERSEY

Story No. 013121110

Passaic, NJ - A massive multiple-alarm blaze destroyed the Atlantic Coast Fiber recycling company in Passaic on the evening of January 29th.

At 11:34 P.M., companies were dispatched to the Atlantic Coast Fibers plant located at 101 7th Street on a reported fire in the building. As first due units arrived they found bales of paper and cardboard on fire inside a large one-story commercial building. Ladder 2 arrived first due and confirmed smoke showing on the Lodi Street side of the building. Battalion Chief Bob Munier arrived and transmitted a second-alarm.

Numerous two-and-a-half inch hand lines were put into operation to attempt to knock down the fire. A third-alarm was struck, bringing additional mutual aid companies from Paterson, Rutherford, Wallington, East Rutherford and Garfield to the scene. Companies were evacuated from the building to re-group as conditions inside deteriorated. Additional alarms were transmitted by Chief of Dept. Trentacost as conditions worsened. Water supply issues were being reported by incoming engine companies as they found many frozen hydrants in the area.

After about one hour heavy fire took total possession of the building. A collapse zone was established as fire vented through the roof, and cracks in the building's walls began to appear. During the operation at least two explosions were reported at the plant, one involving a truck and the other possibly a transformer. A drafting and pumping relay operation was established for additional water supply to the scene with two draft sites ran by engines from Mendam, Ringwood and Parsippany.

Master streams from Passaic Ladders 1 and 2, as well as Totowa Truck 1, East Rutherford Truck 1, and Paterson Ladder 1 were put into operation, along with deck guns from engine companies and the Passaic quick attack unit. Crews from more than 25 fire companies continued to rotate in and out of the fire.

Mayor Lora said that temperatures in the teens accompanied by wind chills made the weather “punch-you-in-the-face cold,” while turning the surrounding area into an ice skating rink. The combined circumstances “created a perfect storm of dangerous situations for our firefighters,” he said. A firefighter was treated at the scene for a minor injury from a fall.

The Passaic County prosecutor’s arson unit responded because of the size and amount of damage caused by the blaze, authorities said. Mutual aid from Passaic, Bergen, Essex, Morris and Somerset counties all converged on the scene or provided coverage during the incident.

As of the next day, firefighters were still on scene working on pockets of fire. The State Neptune system was special called along with two tanker shuttle operations with tankers from West Milford, Ringwood, Jefferson, Picatinny Arsenal, Mt. Arlington, Kinnelon, Bernardsville, Mahwah, Upper Saddle River and Fort Lee Engine 3, which is a rare sight in the city. Both tanker shuttle operations were utilizing four Fold-A-Tanks, and all together units supplied 220,000-gallons of water to the scene.

As night time fell the fire flared up and mutual aid companies were brought back to the scene to assist. As of the third day of operating, companies still continued to extinguish hidden hot spots. A demolition company was brought to the scene to start to raise the building as a major snowstorm was expected within a day.

This incident was the site of a much smaller fire of large newspaper bales back in May of 2015.

(Author's note: A special thank you to the PFD for access to the fireground and info for the article.)

This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.