Crews battle flames, cold, wind in huge recycling plant fire in new jersy

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PASSAIC, N.J. (AP) — A massive fire engulfed a northern New Jersey recycling plant overnight and raged into as firefighters battled flames, frigid cold and wind. Officials warned it could burn for days.

The blaze broke out around midnight at the Atlantic Coast Fibers plant in Passaic, sending flames shooting into the dark as more than two dozen fire departments converged to fight them, officials said. There were at least two explosions, one involving a truck with gas tanks on it, Mayor Hector Lora said.

Smoke continued to billow high into the sky after sunup, and Lora said firefighters were planning to tap the Passaic River for water to keep dousing an inferno that could take days to extinguish completely.

When you consider a recycling plant, everything inside is conducive for continuing to burn,” he said in a phone interview, calling the building “a complete loss.”

The flames erupted on a “punch-you-in-the-face cold” night, as the mayor put it, with temperatures in the teens. He said one firefighter had been taken to a hospital with exhaustion, and another after a fall on surfaces that were “like an ice-skating rink.”

Firefighters did “a remarkable job, nonstop, just hitting the fire at every direction in order to contain it in that structure,” Lora said. There had been concern about the flames spreading, particularly to a nearby chemical factory, “which would have been a much bigger concern,” he said.

“We’re going to be here for a few days dealing with this,” he said, also citing the impact on hundreds of employees at the plant and neighboring structures.

Atlantic Coast Fibers processes cardboard, paper, plastic containers, and other materials for recycling, according to its website. The family-run company dates back over 80 years.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation, Passaic Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost said, but he doesn’t consider it suspicious. Fires are not uncommon in recycling plants, he said.

“A lot of oils get on the recycling, the cardboard that they pick up on the streets in the sanitation trucks. So, batteries, acids can start a fire. A lot of factors,” Trentacost said.

The fire came two years to the day after a massive blaze at the Marcal paper plant in nearby Elmwood Park destroyed 30 of 36 buildings, as well as a familiar red sign visible from Interstate 80. About 500 people lost their jobs. The cause was never determined, but prosecutors said arson wasn’t suspected.

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