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Fire ravages historic N.J. paper plant; homes evacuated

By Nicholas Sakelaris

Jan. 31 (UPI) -- A fire -- fed by cold winds -- ravaged a New Jersey paper factory, lighting the night sky for miles.

The historic Marcal Paper plant in Elmwood Park began late Wednesday and quickly burned out of control, authorities said. Firefighters from 10 cities responded to fight the flames, which could be seen from far away in neighboring communities.

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The blaze was aided by freezing cold winds from the same polar vortex that's brought subzero temperatures to the Midwest and East Coast. Firefighters dealt with wind chills as low as 16 degrees below zero.

"The wind is not helping and the cold -- it's causing the fire to spread rapidly," Elmwood Park Police Chief Michael Foligno said. "We have at least 10 other towns here with fire departments helping us fight the fire."

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Officials said several propane tanks inside the plant exploded, but no one was injured. Neighborhoods surrounding the 45,000-square-foot plant were covered in falling paper, embers and smoke. Some homes had to be evacuated overnight.

The plant makes products from recycled paper, like paper towels.

Soundview Paper Co. CEO Rob Baron, head of the company that owns the mill, said first responders "exhibited extraordinary bravery, commitment and skill risking their lives fighting this terrible blaze in frigid conditions."

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He added the "impact will be incalculable to the lives of our dedicated workers and our business as a whole."

Since 1948, the plant's large red "Marcal" sign was a historical New Jersey landmark visible to anyone passing on Highway 80. Now, it's gone.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

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In a separate incident, at least a dozen cars caught fire at the Newark Liberty International Airport's Terminal C parking lot Thursday. No injuries were reported. The garage will be closed temporarily. Customers can go to the Terminal C Level 1 taxi stand for further assistance.

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