JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Dozens of people have been forced out of their homes in Jersey City after a fire destroyed several houses.
At least four homes were damaged by the flames. Crews were called around 4:20 a.m. to Wade Street and Rutgers Avenue.
People that live in the area woke to flames and the smell of smoke, reported CBS2’s Nick Caloway.
Flames and flashing lights lit up the pre-dawn sky Friday morning.
“The sirens, the alarms, smelling the smoke,” said neighbor Vivian Brazzell-Hemingway.
“I got up and said ‘doggonit.’ I looked out the window and the whole back of the house was on fire across the street,” said neighbor Carol Cadet.
The fire started between two homes around 4:20 a.m. and spread quickly to neighboring properties.
A total of four houses caught fire. Keith Mack’s house was one of them.
“When I woke up, before I called the fire department, I went to the backyard and I saw big yellow flames. The yard next to me was engulfed in flames. Next thing you know, it just spread to all of this right here,” said Mack.
The houses burned for several hours. Firefighters battled three main obstacles when they were trying to knock the flames down: First, high winds made the flames spread quickly. Second, hoarding conditions in one home made it extremely difficult to put the fire out. Finally, a natural gas line in that home ruptured, which fed the flames. Fire crews had to wait to put it out.
“We didn’t want to put the fire out and then have a problem with a gas explosion. So we had to wait until public service gas got on the scene to shutdown the gas in the street,” said Steven McGill of the Jersey City Fire Department. “Once they shut that down, we were able to knock down the rest of the fire.”
Investigators say they are looking into the cause, and say suspicious activity leading up to the fire could be related. Arson investigators were on the scene.
“We have initial reports, we did hear people arguing in the back of the building. Most of the fire is toward the rear in the alley. So we’re just investigating that right now,” said McGill.
Fire officials say the only injuries reported are two firefighters who were treated for minor smoke inhalation. They have since returned to work.
Sixteen families were displaced. The city is working with the Red Cross to put those families up in hotels until they have somewhere more permanent to go.
“So we’re providing immediate assistance, cash, lodging. We’re working in partnership with the city of Jersey City to ensure everyone has a place to stay tonight,” said Matthew Teter or Red Cross New Jersey.
The fire chief says three of those homes will have to be torn down because they are no longer structurally sound.