By Karen Zautyk
On Saturday afternoon, with temperatures well below freezing and the wind-chill well below that, the Kearny Fire Department responded to a blaze at a South Kearny truck-repair business. With flames apparently fueled by stored tires and motor oil, the fire grew to four alarms and, at its height, was being battled by 75-80 firefighters from seven municipalities.
During the blaze, a portion of the steel building “twisted and collapsed,” KFD Chief Steve Dyl reported. As a result, an emergency demolition of the structure was ordered, which the owners, Kephart Trucking, carried out on Sunday, Dyl said. The chief said the initial alarm came in at 1:53 p.m. and the fire was declared under control shortly before 5 p.m. However, KFD crews remained on the scene — on Second St. near Adams St. — into Sunday afternoon. Although the cause is undetermined, Dyl said the blaze appeared to have started in the Kephart building housing tractors and tires.
Flames spread to a smaller, adjacent office/storage facility and then threatened a second building — maintenance headquarters for CCA Civil Inc., the contractor working on the reconstruction of the Pulaski Skyway.
“The guys made a valiant effort to stop it from destroying that second building,” Dyl noted. He said the CCA structure did suffer some damage, particularly water damage, but the crews managed to save it.
The fire scene was below the Skyway, which had to be closed to traffic for about an hour because of the clouds of smoke.
In addition to the KFD, firefighters from Harrison, East Newark, North Arlington, Jersey City, Bayonne and Hoboken responded. There were approximately 20 firetrucks and engines at the scene.
One Kearny fireman was treated for a shoulder injury, Dyl said.
Along with the usual hazards facing the crews, Dyl said Saturday’s challenges were compounded by “the cold temperatures and the large volume of fire.” He described the conditions as “extreme.”
“It was very cold,” the chief said, “which caused the water runoff to freeze and made moving around the scene treacherous.
“The hoses were freezing, too. One froze to the ground and we couldn’t move it.”
KFD Deputy Chief Robert Osborn was the incident commander at the scene, and the investigation is being conducted by KFD Chief Inspector John Donovan.