Fire Damages Nine Buildings in Jersey City

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) -- A raging fire damaged nine residential buildings Wednesday afternoon, forcing dozens of people from their homes.

The blaze broke out about 4:45 p.m. in a neighborhood just north of the New Jersey Turnpike's Newark Bay Extension and quickly grew to six alarms.

Nine buildings _ six occupied and three unoccupied _ were damaged, some extensively, and nine vehicles parked on the street were destroyed, according to city Fire Director Armando Roman. The fire was declared under control at 7:15 p.m.

Roman said all residents of the buildings involved escaped safely.

About 120 firefighters from Jersey City and six nearby communities battled the blaze.

With the temperature in the high 90s, 10 firefighters required medical treatment, nine for heat exhaustion and one for chest pains, Roman said. Some were treated at the scene, others transported to the hospital.

Thick, choking smoke forced residents along Neptune Avenue to evacuate their homes, and some sought medical attention for breathing difficulties.

Authorities were investigating whether the blaze might have been touched off by an electrical explosion or possibly by squatters in one of the vacant buildings, Roman said.

Roberta Harper was in her apartment next to the building that initially caught fire when she smelled smoke and ran outside.

''It was like the whole block blew up,'' she said. ''There was smoke and fire everywhere.''

Harper said she did not know where she would spend the night after the blaze quickly spread to her building.

Robert DeJuan, Harper's landlord, said he had reached an agreement to sell his building for $240,000 but had not yet closed the deal. He said he had no fire insurance.

''Somebody is going to have to pay for my house,'' he said.