The Marcal Paper Factory, a battlefield against numerous small and not so small fires over the decades, was destroyed most of Wednesday night when a massive flame raided the historic factory on the River Passaic in Elmwood Park.
Despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters below zero wind, the big red factory signal, a landmark of North Jersey for decades, collapsed along with the iconic red brick building along Route 80 for millions of drivers passing through years.
The Elmwood Park neighborhood, which forms a semicircle around the plant, was flooded with embers falling to the ground and suffocating smoke as firefighters ordered the evacuation of several homes. Traffic slowed down on Route 80, with a driver reporting on Twitter that the temperature gauge in his car shot up about 50 degrees as he passed the factory, an indication of the intensity of the paper-fed fire.
A cloud of smoke from the massive fire can be seen on the radar as far as the South Shore of Long Island, while video after video of the scene showed flames rising from the 86-year-old factory's roof, and propane blasts tanks could be heard. No injuries were reported.
Elmwood Park police chief Michael Foligno said firefighters could not control the fire because of the weather and were being allowed to burn. Temperatures dropped to nine degrees at Elmwood Park starting at 9PM, with a chill wind of -16.
He said the coals spread through several nearby houses, resulting in small fires that were quickly extinguished. Likewise, latent embers landed on the roof of the municipal building and were covered up by firefighters.
A series of houses near the fire were evacuated, he said, and the city opened a heating center in the neighborhood recreation building.
The cause of the fire was still under investigation on Wednesday night.
Rob Baron, president and chief executive officer of Soundview Paper Company, who currently runs Marcal, said none of the 200 employees working at the facility at the time of the fire were injured.
"The full extent of damage to our facilities is not yet known, but we know the impact will be incalculable for the lives of our dedicated workers and our business as a whole," Baron said in a statement. "Our top priority in the coming days and weeks will be to support our associates at Marcal, whose lives will be directly impacted by this disaster."
The factory was founded by papermaker Nicholas Marcalus in 1932, who came to the United States from Sicily when he was a teenager and now holds dozens of patents, and was acquired by his son Robert in 1979. He operated the family owned plant until 2008 and died in 2014.
The company grew to more than $ 200 million in annual sales of paper towels and other products made entirely of recycled fiber, most of which were sold in the Northeast.
Soundview Paper Company, is owned by the private investment company Atlas Holdings of Greenwich, Connecticut.
The site has a long history of fires, including a fire in 2017, where more than 100 firefighters erased a hell of 5 alarms at the plant.
The teams were able to contain a 2014 fire that began in an off-site storage area where the company keeps recycled paper bales.
On January 9, a small fire was recorded on the roof of the building, but was controlled in about two hours.
Chris Sheldon can be reached in email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrisrsheldon Meet NJ.com on Facebook.
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