NORTH BERGEN, NJ -- Firefighters battled a fierce, wind-whipped blaze throughout most of Thursday and anxiously awaited an opportunity to search the abandoned medical building for squatters possibly trapped in the blaze.
Four firefighters suffered minor injuries in their struggle to contain the Kennedy Boulevard fire near 56th Street. Two vagrants escaped the blaze unharmed, but fire officials weren't certain if others remained inside, said Brion McEldowney, chief of the North Hudson Regional Fire Department.
The blaze in the one-story concrete building began shortly after 5:30 a.m. and was called in by a passing patrolman, police said.
More than 70 firefighters worked throughout the day to contain the fire, but by dusk the building still burned.
"We'll maintain a presence throughout the night," McEldowney said. "But we'll have to resume operations [this morning]."
Once the fire is contained, McEldowney said, building inspectors will determine whether the structure is sound enough for a search and recovery operation. If it isn't, fire personnel will scour debris from the demolition of the building.
"We do know there were some vagrants, two of them, inside the building who got out," McEldowney said. "But we were unable to get in the building. At this point, I hope everyone got out."
Although McEldowney wouldn't speculate on the cause of the fire, he said it was likely that all utilities had been turned off, raising the possibility the blaze may have been started by the squatters.
"It's just way too soon to tell," he said.
A hazardous materials team collected air samples from outside the 12,000-square-foot building late Thursday morning. Fire officials were concerned that hazardous materials may have been stored in the former medical office, but they later determined the building was empty.