19 Firefighters Hurt, 34 Residents Left Homeless by Early-Morning Jersey City Fires

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) -- Three major fires that broke out in less than an hour early Monday injured 22 people, left 34 homeless and kept more than 200 firefighters busy for hours.

Virtually every firefighter on duty Monday morning was battling one of the three, multialarm blazes, and reinforcements were called in from numerous surrounding fire departments under a mutual aid pact.

''It was absolutely an all-hands on deck situation,'' said Fire Director Armando Roman.

He estimated at least 135 Jersey City firefighters were battling the blazes, aided by about 70 reinforcements from neighboring departments.

The first blaze was reported in a three-story house on Gifford Avenue about 5:30 a.m., where flames were shooting out the top two floors of the building.

As they were driving to that blaze, firefighters spotted another house on fire a few blocks away on Virginia Avenue, and radioed for additional help, Roman said. That house also had fire on its upper floors.

While fire companies were battling those two blazes, the largest fire, in a four-story brick apartment complex on St. Pauls Avenue was reported at 6:17 a.m. That fire quickly went to four alarms, and the call went out for mutual aid assistance from municipalities including Newark, Bayonne, Bloomfield, Nutley and the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Department.

Fourteen firefighters were injured battling the apartment complex blaze, which also hurt one of the building's residents. Another four firefighter and two civilians were hurt at the Gifford Avenue fire, and one firefighter was hurt at the Virginia Avenue blaze. None of the injuries was life-threatening, said Capt. Andrew Johnson, a fire department spokesman.

Maria Shute, a resident of the apartment complex, said the fire began in the living room of her unit, although she did not know how.

''I woke up and saw the flames and I started yelling, 'Get up, get out of here!' '' she said. ''I have three kids; if I didn't wake up, they would be dead.''

She, like many of her neighbors, was trying to find a place to stay with friends or relatives. The American Red Cross also was trying to assist displaced families find temporary shelter.

The fire quickly gutted the apartment building, and the roof collapsed.

''We lost everything, everything,'' Shute said, her face streaked with soot and sweat as she stood on the sidewalk across the street and watched firefighters pour streams of water on the smoldering ruins. ''Our lives were in there.''

Investigators had not yet determined the cause of any of the fires.