NORTH BRUNSWICK, N.J. — The scene in North Brunswick overnight was as if the silver screen came to life, "I saw what appeared to be Armageddon," said Dan Cravena, a local resident.
Flames pierced the sky and lit it up for miles at a time when night should be at its darkest. Officials say that approximately one million square feet of a collision center were engulfed by this fire. An inferno made more challenging for firefighters as a result of the plastics company housed on site.
"It's mostly building material, carpeting, linoleum floor products, the end of the building that is burning right now is a plastics manufacturing company where they melted down plastics to make other products, so we basically know what it is in the building, most of it is modern compatible stuff," said Donald Salzmann, North Brunswick fire chief.
At one point firefighters began relying on natural resources to replenish supplies, "We started a tanker shuttle from the lake that is nearby," said Salzmann.
By sunrise, the looks of concern were on the faces of nearby residents as the smoke engulfed portions of a an apartment complex. There were even a few forced to watch in disbelief while standing only in their bathrobes.
One resident described the evacuation process that was sudden and swift, "First I thought I was dreaming when I heard the banging so when I finally went out to the door and found out what was going on, I quickly woke up my family and tried to rush out of the house as fast as possible."
Residents were forced out due to the overwhelming smoke that smothered the neighborhood for most of the day. A federal official announced during a midday news conference that there was no danger hidden inside the smoke, "The chemicals associated with this type of fire, which is a plastics fire, are largely volatilizing up and mostly out of harms way," said Dwayne Harrington of the EPA.
As for the residents who were forced into an exit strategy by first responders? Nearly 80 of them ended up at Linwood Middle School.
A Red Cross disaster relief team was established in the gym to assist with those who had been forced out.
Tracey Crane evacuated at 8 a.m. with little resistance, "Let's just go and that was it. I didn't really think about it because if they are telling you to leave, I am assuming it is really bad."
Joel Sanchez who fled with his 2-year-old son Justin and the rest of his family expressed his gratitude for the way everything was handled, "Hats off to the township they had a plan in plane and stuck to it and they moved everybody pretty quickly that had to leave."
Back at the scene, Ricardo Martinez looked at the facility with a heavy heart as he shared with PIX11 News in his native Spanish that he is uncertain where his next paycheck is coming from.
"This is very sad for me, because this is where I worked and many people worked their with me," said Martinez.
Late in the day officials announced that residents who were evacuated will not be allowed to return home this evening.
Additionally fire crews will remain at the site to ensure there are no flare ups overnight and into tomorrow.