Raging NJ inferno that displaced hundreds ruled accidental, caused by building workers

New Jersey fire - Anthony Quintano
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Raging NJ inferno that displaced hundreds ruled accidental, caused by building workers
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EDGEWATER, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 22: Fire fighters cool off with fire hydrants at the Avalon apartment complex in the Edgewater along the edge of the Hudson River, New Jersey state on January 22, 2015. Hundreds of people have been displaced after a massive fire engulfed the Avalon apartment complex in the Edgewater, New Jersey state, leaving much of the complex completely consumed by the flames after several hours. No deaths or major injuries were reported. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


The raging inferno that nearly wiped out an entire apartment complex sitting on the Hudson River across from Manhattan was started by accident, fire officials said Thursday, according to WABC-TV.

Sources told WABC-TV that a plumber welding a pipe inside one of the 240 units reduced to ashes may have sparked the blaze, but fire officials hesitated to confirm that as a cause.

Towering flames and billowing smoke from the five-alarm fire at the Avalon, in Edgewater, New Jersey, could be clearly seen from Manhattan's West Side.

Remarkably, there were no deaths and only two residents injured as their homes were incinerated. Firefighters were somehow able to save 168 units in the complex.

Famed New York Yankees radio announcer John Sterling is among the more than 1,000 people displaced, about 520 of them permanently.

Yankees television announcer Michael Kay announced late Wednesday night on Twitter that Sterling was okay but that his possessions were likely a total loss.
"I walked to the building and smelled smoke, and I went out to my floor where my apartment is, and the smoke was so bad I couldn't see, and I thought, 'Hey, we'd better get out of here,'" Sterling told WCBS.

Incredible images from photographer Anthony Quintano, who lives in New Jersey, show up close the impossible task the hundreds of responding firefighters had in beating down the hellish inferno.

The flames spread so fast that emergency crews were unable to limit its impact by shutting off gas service, sources told the television station.

"It was in the floors, and it just traveled," Edgewater Fire Chief Thomas Jacobson told WABC. "We had crews on three floors, we had the task of multiple rescues on different floors because the smoke had traveled through the building, and we had to evacuate people."

People were pulled to safety from back balconies, sometimes only minutes or seconds before flames scorched where they were standing, according to Jacobson.

"The fire just took off," he added.

No people were reported missing, but several pets are believed to have been burned to death, according to reports.

The Avalon was built using lightweight wood construction, Jacobson said during a Wednesday evening press conference.

The lack of cement and concrete saved developers money but also allowed the fire to quickly spread from unit to unit.

"This is a problem you face with this type of construction," the fire chief added.

An arson squad was called to scene as firefighters expect to continue battling hotspots through at least the weekend, but that is standard procedure in a blaze of this size.

"A fire of this magnitude is an automatic response for the arson squad," Jacobson explained.

Several nearby schools have been closed as homeless residents are now staying in shelters until other arrangements can be made.

An August 30, 2000, fire at the same site, while under construction, also displaced dozens of nearby residents.

Developer Avalon Mews was found guilty of negligence in the fire.

The Avalon complex was built on the grounds of a former Alcoa factory.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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