PATERSON, N.J. — A large fire broke out at a New Jersey drug rehabilitation facility Saturday morning, sending thick, dark smoke into the sky.
The blaze broke out at the Straight and Narrow facility, along Straight Street in Paterson, the city's mayor Andre Sayegh said at the scene.
Firefighters battled the stubborn blaze for 8 hours.
A lot of challenges arose as they battled the fire at the 3 story building, including a massive explosion that sent a steel barrel into the air like a missile.
"It blew the entire roof section off in the rear of this building on the 3rd floor and the barrel went approximately 300 feet in the air," said Paterson Fire Chief Brian McDermott.
Fortunately no one was injured by that blast.
Propane tanks were a big concern for firefighters as they battled this blaze.
Chief McDermott credits Paterson Police for helping get everyone out of the building safely before the fire spread.
Keeping the blaze contained to this building became the number one priority and firefighters got a little help from mother nature.
"The wind is blowing directly to the south that really helped us, if it moved toward this neighborhood it would be a different story." McDermott added.
The fire was contained and the building now needs to be demolished.
The call came in just before 11am Saturday. About 70 Paterson firefighters responded, along with mutual aid from other departments.
The building was a rehab facility, home to about 50 men trying to turn their lives around.
"People that want to come back to society. They get trained they get rehabbed for re-entry back into life," said Paterson City Councilman Luis Velez.
Patricia Rizzo worked in the building.
"They're in recovery and they also have a criminal background so they are rebuilding their lives. I help them get jobs and you help them with a million other things because they need so much to get on their feet again. So the halfway house, that was our home."
The 50 men were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Fortunately most were at work when the fire broke out.
This evening they gathered at Father English Church on Main Street to get clothing.
"The 50 men lost everything, they have no clothes. All their documents we worked so hard to get, birth certificates, social security cards, driver's licenses — all gone."
The men will be put up in another facility run by the center for rehabilitation at Straight and Narrow.
About 200 people were evacuated from the building next door at 396 Straight Street
The fire department is working with PSE & G to get them back in.
"We want to make sure that we get some power over to 396, There are about 200 people in 396 Straight. We understand it's an under served population and we want to help them out," said McDermott.
The 50 or so residents from the gutted building are being sheltered at a nearby Catholic school.
Thumbnail photo credit Michael Jannicelli.