Aerial view of the Marcal Paper Products plant the morning after a raging fire destroyed buildings on the site in Elmwood Park on Jan. 31, 2019.
Tariq Zehawi and Danielle Parhizkaran and Michael V. Pettigano, North Jersey Record
ELMWOOD PARK — Officials and residents made the first steps to move forward Thursday, the day after a disastrous fire destroyed Marcal Paper Mills.
Wednesday’s nine-alarm blaze at the Market Street complex left the factory in ruin and 500 people without jobs, but nobody was injured, officials said.
The fire almost completely incinerated the paper factory, with 90 percent of the complex’s footprint gone, said Police Chief and Borough Administrator Michael Foligno during a Thursday press conference at Borough Hall.
Although authorities are investigating, Foligno said the fire does not appear to be suspicious.
Impact on workers
After Gov. Phil Murphy toured the ruins of the factory Thursday afternoon, he spoke of the aftermath with Rob Baron, Marcal’s CEO, Fire Chief Michael Sulick, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. and other officials.
“First of all I want to express how appreciative the Marcal family is for the extraordinary work the first responders did,” Baron said. “Thank you for all them to put their lives at risk to mitigate what was a tragic day for Marcal.”
Wednesday night’s cold and windy conditions overcame the factory’s fire suppression system, he said. While Baron did not say what the next steps for the 500 workers were, he expressed gratitude that they were all OK.
“Our sole focus is our people,” Baron said. “That’s the most important thing we have in that building.”
Murphy said that it was “too early to tell” what kind of help the state could offer, but the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development would look into getting employees benefits while they got back on their feet.
“[The fire was] devastating,” Murphy said. “But this is a state, this is a county, this is a community with an extraordinary spirit. This is a company with an extraordinary spirit.”
The story continues below the gallery.
On Wednesday night at about 5 p.m., the fire tore through the 45,000-square-foot warehouse building, which acts as a distribution center for Marcal paper products. The flames consumed the building, and firefighters battled the intense heat of the flames amid the searing cold of the night.
At 4:30 p.m., just a half-hour before the fire erupted, Zbigniew Golko, who worked at Marcal for 25 years, walked out of the factory, he said. As Golko watched the fire on the news, he couldn’t believe that the factory was now destroyed.
“That was many people’s livelihoods that are down the drain,” Golko said.
Comparing aerial images of the Marcal factory before and after the Jan. 30, 2019 fire that destroyed the plant.
Michael V. Pettigano and Tariq Zehawi and Danielle Parhizkaran, North Jersey Record
Fighting the fire
The intense wind made fighting the fire a difficult task, with wind carrying the fire and heat upwards, Sulick said.
“We were making good progress,” Sulick said. “It was the tail end of that squall. That wind wrapped around the fire and it took it all over. At that point, fire went up.”
That’s when firefighters inside the building began to hear cracking sounds and evacuated, Sulick said. Firefighters stationed themselves outside, setting up equipment downstream from the wind.
“It just went downhill from that point,” he said.
Bergen County Executive James Tedesco said wind created a “thermal updraft,” a natural phenomenon where a localized heating of air causes air to rise and fall in relatively small areas.
The temperature dropped so low that water in some of the hoses used to douse the flames was freezing, he said.
“It’s a fire that’ll be remembered a long time,” Tedesco said.
On Wednesday night, drivers on Route 80 said they could feel the intense heat emanating from the scene from inside their cars on the highway. Onlookers reported explosion-like sounds near the scene that they suspected were pieces of the building falling to the ground.
Hours after the fire began, the iconic Marcal sign that sat atop the Marcal Paper Mills building, visible from Route 80 toppled down, falling into the flames and smoke.
The conflagration burned so fiercely, the flames could be seen from airplanes arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport. A plume of smoke traveled as far as New York City.
The story continues below the video.
This recording of a live video broadcast by NorthJersey.com shows portions of the famous and historic Marcal Paper Products building complex burning down on Jan. 30, 2019.
Michael V. Pettigano and Paul Wood Jr., North Jersey Record
Embers floated throughout the area, setting fire to a small house on Paterson Avenue, which firefighters quickly put out. Some residences across River Drive were evacuated around 9 p.m. because of embers, but residents were back in their homes before midnight.
On Thursday morning, with temperatures dropping to 2 degrees, some of the buildings in the area were glazed in ice, as smoke still emanated from the Marcal ruins. Firefighters were still dousing some of the site’s hotspots, Foligno said. There were still flames at certain areas of the building, he said.
The story continues below the video.
There was no indication that hazardous materials were involved in the fire, said Larry Hajna, spokesman for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP’s Bureau of Emergency Response was on scene to help local fire and emergency management, he said.
The DEP was in the process of establishing air monitoring, Hajna said. During the height of the fire, the smoke was rising thousands of feet in the air and dispersing, preventing monitoring the air from the ground level.
Firefighters would be at the site of the fire until at least Thursday night, Foligno said. It was likely firefighters would remain on the scene until Saturday, Foligno said. Once the flames were completely extinguished, the arson squad would go to the site to investigate, he said.
Story continues after photo gallery
On Thursday, demolition crews were on standby, while the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management made sure the site was safe for crews to go in. With the ashes still floating from the rubble, the future of Marcal and its workers was unknown.
“We don’t know what will come of this property when all is said done,” read a statement released on behalf of Mayor Francesco Caramagna and the Borough Council. “What we do know is that we will do everything in our power to make sure that Elmwood Park recovers, that those affected get assistance, and to see to it that one day the iconic Marcal sign rises again.”
Staff Writers Sarah Nolan, Melanie Anzidei, Ricardo Kaulessar, Keldy Ortiz, Owen Proctor, Svetlana Shkolnikova, Debbie Waldeyer, Joshua Jongsma and Anthony Zurita contributed to this article.
Read or Share this story: https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/bergen/elmwood-park/2019/01/31/marcal-paper-mill-fire-aftermath-elmwood-park-nj/2730022002/