One of the coldest nights on record with high winds and sub-zero temperatures, also was to become the night of one of the largest fires in Bergen County in many years. A little after 1700, the Elmwood Park Fire Department was dispatched to the Marcal Paper Company on Market Street for a fire. This is somewhat routine as the department has been there on multiple occasions over the years for fires, many small and a few larger including one that went to five alarms. Tonight, however, would be different. As the first chief arrived he reported a heavy smoke condition and what appeared to be three buildings involved in fire and immediately requested a third alarm.
Firefighters attempted to locate the seat of the fire but the heavy smoke made it difficult and within 15 minutes command reported heavy fire through the roof and embers landing on buildings and homes across the street and he requested a fourth alarm. Approximately 40 minutes into the fire command reported a heavy ember problem and had companies chasing embers for several blocks. As they were landing on houses, a small fire started on the roof of Boro Hall several blocks away, but it was quickly extinguished. In less than an hour, all members were evacuated and switched to an exterior attack. The high winds played havoc with the master streams. As the fire was rapidly spreading, command requested multiple ladders to set up around the complex and just over an hour into the fire the fifth alarm was transmitted as the fire continued to spread through the complex. A drafting site was set up with engines drafting from the Passaic River, and additional alarms were sounded bringing fire companies from Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties to the scene.
The wind and subzero temperatures continued to play havoc, helping spread the fire and freezing water in the hoses, pumps and on the fire ground — two engines had to be placed out of service because their pumps froze. Command requested the State Neptune (high volume water) System to the scene, however it was unable to respond.
The fire eventually spread to most of the buildings within the confines of the complex including a large four-story mill which held the famous Marcal Paper sign on its roof, and another two-story mill building which was over 600-feet long. Units were able to protect the main production building, the complex’s power plant and several other buildings. After 24 hours, companies were being rotated into the fire scene, and command reported numerous deep-seated fires in the rubble with a demolition crew attempting to pull the rubble apart.
Miraculously no injuries were reported. The cause of the fire was being investigated by the NJ State Fire Marshal’s Office, the BATF&E and local authorities.
– Fire News photos by Peter Danzo, Chris ‘Doc’ Denton, Steven White, Mark Rosetti and PuckStopperPhotography.com