UPDATE: A gas-fed fire raced through a Passaic commercial strip Monday night, consuming or severely damaging at least eight businesses, authorities said. No serious injuries were reported.
The six-alarm Lexington Avenue fire broke out in the kitchen of the Peruvian El Chevere Restaurant just after 10 p.m., sending flames through the roof and forcing evacuations of area residences.
It took firefighters two hours or so to get it under control, thanks to a methodical approach -- and with assistance from a dozen or so companies, five ladders and upwards of 20 engines, city Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost Jr. said.
"The humidity, the weather, is really knocking us down," the chief said in a Facebook live feed with Mayor Hector Carlos Lora from the scene, between Monroe and Quincy streets.
"The humidity is causing the smoke to stay low, it's pushing the fire horizontal across through the cockloft, which is a common area in the one-and-a-half story building here," the chief said. "We've had seven or eight different stores involved.
"We're doing our best to confine the fire to possibly the three buildings closest to the main building," Trentacost said.
"Most of the buildings were empty," he added. "We did have to evacuate several businesses that were still open."
"The extreme heat, the smoke, the fact that all these buildings are connected are real challenges for our firefighters," Lora said. "A lot of the buildings are old -- close to 100 years old."
A partial roof collapse of the restaurant around 11:15 p.m. became a total collapse just before midnight.
Meanwhile, firefighters aggressively battling the blaze anxiously awaited PSE&G to shut the gas line.
"[We] keep calling," one said just before 11:30 p.m. "[We] need help."
A crew arrived about a half-hour later, responders said.
Trentacost said no serious injuries were immediately reported, although a Clifton firefighter required EMS attention.
Carlstadt, Clifton, East Rutherford, Garfield, Little Falls, Pompton Lakes, Rutherford, Totowa, Wallington and Woodland Park firefighters assisted their Passaic colleagues either at the scene or for city coverage.
"They responded immediately," Lora noted. "It is because of this collaborative effort that lives are saved and that this isn't worse than it already is."
The fire was considered under control around 12:15 a.m., although Trentacost said companies would have to keep going through the night.
MORE: Go to Jeff Stang (YouTube) videos
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