Concern in the air as big fire spreads smoke across north Jersey, Staten Island

Posted at 6:41 PM, Jan 18, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-18 18:49:20-05

RAHWAY, N.J. (PIX11) —  A concern about danger in the air in North Jersey and on Staten Island brought out fire, ladder and Hazmat trucks, ambulances and police cars from a 10-mile radius for a huge blaze here.

It broke out just before noon at the AllState PowerVac facility on East Hazelwood Road.  The company specializes in the environmental cleanup of industrial sites and vehicles, and fire marshals are looking at one of the company’s own vehicles as the source of the three-alarm blaze.

“We believe there was a truck inside that sparked the fire,” said Chief Bill Young of the Rahway Fire Department.

That fire quickly became huge.  “Several hundred feet into the sky,” is how high Chief Young said the smoke plume was, but winds spread the smoke east for miles, across North Jersey and into Staten Island.

Because AllState PowerVac’s business involves chemicals, fire officials were concerned about hazardous fumes and other materials harming people in the path of the smoke.  It was a big reason why  departments from all over Union County and neighboring counties were called in.

At the scene, PIX11 saw multiple firefighting units from Springfield, Elizabeth, Newark and Linden, among others.  “It speaks to the severity [of the fire], the potential [for danger] and the efficiency of the mutual aid system,” said Chief Young.

Dave Merricks, who was born in a home near the fire scene, said that the massive, fast response was a welcome contrast to what he had observed in the past.

“Thirty years ago,” said the man with long-standing ties to the Rahway community, “there was a lot less construction here, and there was a fire, and almost no response.  As a result, businesses burned [down].  To see [this response] thirty years later, that’s a good thing.”

Merricks’s brother is battling Stage 4 lung cancer, and his family had to keep him behind shut and locked windows and doors in order to preserve his health.  However, the smoke blew in the opposite direction from Rahway, toward New York.

Fire officials said they did not determine that the smoke was unusually hazardous.  Still, they ordered everyone out of the facility where the fire broke out. AllState PowerVac’s compliance officer, Donna Miller, told PIX11 News that she could not comment about the origins of the fire, but she said that the company was relieved that there were no injuries to any firefighters or civilians.

“It could’ve been much worse,” Chief Young said.  “You’ve got to hand it to the firefighters and the mutual aid we received.”

There is as yet no word about any charges being filed in this case.  The fire remains under investigation.