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NYT: Firefighters fight a large fire at the Passaic chemical plant

Firefighters were battling a large fire early Saturday morning at a chemical plant in Passaic, NJ, that had erupted the previous night, sending towering flames into the sky and billowing clouds of smoke in the area.

No serious injuries were reported, the town’s mayor said, but the fire was still raging.

“We’re going to be fighting this fire for days,” Mayor Hector C. Lora said in a brief predawn phone interview.

On Friday evening, Mr Lora had urged residents to stay away from the area to allow firefighters across the region to tackle the 11-alarm blaze at the factory, which is home to a company, Qualco, which manufactures chlorine for swimming pools. Mr Lora said he was also asking residents to close their windows to keep smoke out.

In a phone interview on Friday evening, Mr Lora said around 100,000 pounds of chlorine in the plant had been “impacted” by the fire, the heat from the flames or the water from the fire department hoses.

As a result, he said, a reverse 911 call was sent to residents of the city and county of Bergen, advising them to keep their windows rolled up. He said, however, that the part of the plant where most of the chlorine was stored was not affected.

“We are not at a location where we believe the danger or threat would warrant evacuations,” Lora said, adding that if there had been toxic fumes, firefighters “would have been pulled from the site.”

Mr Lora said in the subsequent interview, shortly after 4 a.m., that environmental officials were monitoring air quality in the area and no evacuation orders had been issued. Mr. Lora himself was still at the scene, speaking from a car parked near the chemical plant.

Patrick Trentacost Sr., the Passaic fire chief, said around 11 p.m. Friday that the chlorine that had burned was “not to be feared at this time.”

“But we are constantly monitoring it,” he said. “We have businesses in the chemical plant and we are monitoring very closely where this fire is headed.”

Mr Lora estimated on Friday night that more than 200 area firefighters responded to the blaze, which started shortly after 8.30pm. He said on Saturday morning that a number of them had been sent home.

A firefighter had suffered a minor eye injury and there had been some “slips and falls”, he said. But there were no major injuries.

Mr. Lora said Friday that he had spoken to Governor Philip D. Murphy, who dispatched environmental and emergency management officials to the scene.

“We will not be able to perform a full inspection until the fire is completely extinguished,” Lora wrote on Facebook. “It may take some time to establish the cause. The main problem with chlorine fire is the wind.

Mr. Murphy said on Twitter that he urged “everyone in Passaic to stay safe” and he asked those near the fire to keep their windows closed.

“Praying for the safety of our first responders at the scene,” Murphy wrote.

A video posted on social media showed a big fireball erupting along a highway as thick clouds of smoke roared into the sky. The flames drew crowds of onlookers, some of whom said they heard explosions and saw sparks.

New York City officials said that residents could see or smell smoke from the fire in Passaic, a city of about 70,000 people, located about 10 miles from Manhattan.

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