Hundreds of New Jersey firefighters were battling a warehouse blaze in below-freezing temperatures Wednesday that caused the destruction of a historic paper plant and the red sign that sat atop the structure, reports said.
The Marcal Paper Plant in Elmwood Park, about 21 miles outside New York City, was consumed with flames around 5 p.m. after a fire began in its nearby 425,000-square-foot warehouse, which houses paper rolls used to make toilet paper and tissue.
The plant's large red sign collapsed along with a brick building that held it up near a freeway.
No injuries were reported but cold temperatures that plummeted as the polar vortex hit the region made extinguishing the blaze at the 86-year-old plant difficult, Police Chief and Borough Administrator Michael Foligno said.
By 9 p.m., temperatures dropped to 9 degrees with a windchill of minus-16.
“It’s freezing," Foligno told NorthJersey.com. "Firefighters are dealing with water on their faces and on their hands, it’s spraying all over you. Regardless of your equipment, it impacts you and slows you down.”
He said the weather didn't allow firefighters to bring the fire under control, and that it was being allowed to burn itself out.
Smoke from the blaze could be seen as far as New York City and Long Island. Several homes near the blaze were evacuated and the town opened a warming center for residents.
Embers had spread to some of the homes and caused small fires that were quickly extinguished. Mayor Frank Caramagna told NJ.com the roof of the warehouse collapsed by 6:30 p.m.
Joe Mirrer, an 18-year Marcal employee, said he works in the building next to the one that caught fire said he was worried about the fire spreading to nearby structures.
"There are other small propane tanks across the area that could explode," Mirrer said. "That was the explosions people heard."
The Marcal building has a history of fire-related incidents in recent years and is a familiar site to motorists who travel on Interstate 80. The company, now run as Soundview Paper Co., had a fire in 2017 that required more than 100 firefighters to extinguish.