ELMWOOD PARK, N.J. – A day after a disastrous fire destroyed the landmark Marcal Paper Mills plant in New Jersey, officials and residents took the first steps to move forward Thursday.
Nobody was injured, officials said, but Wednesday's nine-alarm blaze left the factory in ruins and 500 people without jobs.
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.
Although authorities are investigating, Foligno said the fire does not appear to be suspicious.
After New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy toured the ruins of the factory Thursday afternoon, he spoke of the aftermath along with Marcal CEO Rob Baron and other officials.
Wednesday night's cold and windy conditions overcame the factory's fire suppression system, according to Baron.
While he did not say what the next steps for the 500 workers would be, 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 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 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.
Zbigniew Golko, who worked at Marcal for 25 years, 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.
The intense wind made fighting the fire a difficult task, according to Fire Chief Michael Sulick.
"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.
"It just went downhill from that point," he said.
Hours after the fire began, the iconic Marcal sign that sat atop the Marcal Paper Mills building, toppled down into the flames and smoke.
The conflagration burned so fiercely, the flames could be seen from airplanes arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Bergen County Executive James Tedesco said wind created a "thermal updraft," a 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.
Contributing: Sarah Nolan, Melanie Anzidei, Ricardo Kaulessar, Keldy Ortiz, Owen Proctor, Svetlana Shkolnikova, Debbie Waldeyer, Joshua Jongsma and Anthony Zurita
This article originally appeared on North Jersey Record: Devastating fire destroys New Jersey paper plant and leaves 500 without jobs