Fires hit steel plant, trailer truck

Photos by Ron Leir
Driver Jose Collazo (top) and his charred truck (middle) after the fire as workers unload its cargo.


Firefighters fought two blazes within two days in Kearny last week resulting in one reported injury.

Workers at a Kearny industrial complex were repairing a forklift last Thursday afternoon when the machine caught fire, forcing evacuation of the building, Kearny fire officials reported.

The fire, at the Harding Steel Co., 590 Belleville Turnpike, was called in at 2:42 p.m. and was brought under control within 15 minutes, KFD Chief Steven Dyl said. He said the automatic sprinkler system had been activated, which prevented the flames from spreading through the two-story structure. However, the building, which has a warehouse on the ground level and offices above, “was filled with smoke,” requiring complete evacuation.

All the employees were brought to safety by the KFD, but one of the forklift mechanics, a 45-year-old man, reportedly suffered minor burns. He was treated at the scene by Kearny EMS.

Because Harding Steel is part of a complex of 30-plus buildings, the KFD responded with all units. While the Kearny firefighters were at the site, backup coverage for the town was provided by the Jersey City Fire Department.

Dyl said the exact cause of the fire is being investigated by the Bureau of Combustibles under the direction of Acting Chief Inspector John Donovan.

Last Friday, at about 12:45 p.m., callers to The Observer reported hearing what sounded like “explosions” coming from the foot of Garfield Ave. off Schuyler Ave., near Harvey Field.

Mike Johnson, who had just driven in from an electrical company in Brooklyn to make a delivery, said police had stopped him for safety reasons and while he was waiting, he heard “a couple of booms, that sounded like a little, small bomb going off.” A bit later, he said, he saw a truck burning.

The fire was coming from a truck from the T.J. McDermott Transportation Co., Inc., parked on the north side of Garfield Ave.

Its driver, Jose Collazo, of Elizabeth, told The Observer that he’d just started driving the vehicle, loaded with olives, yogurt and other foods bound for a Massachusetts delivery, when “smoke started coming out” from the cab.

“It was probably a short in the alternator or battery,” said Collazo, who’s been driving for the company about two years.

“I tried to open the hood,” Collazo said, and flames began shooting out so he grabbed a fire extinguisher from the truck to try to douse them. “I couldn’t put it out,” he said. “There were flames everywhere.”

Afterwards, company employees offloaded the truck’s contents in hopes of salvaging what they could.

The fire spread to two nearby cab-less tractor-trailers parked nearby. The intense heat badly charred the McDermott truck and damaged part of the two trailers.

Asked about the noises reported by Johnson and others in the area, Chief Dyl said they were “probably tires popping or something along those lines.” Dyl characterized the fire as “accidental,” probably due to some type of “mechanical problem.” He said firefighters under the command of Dep. Chief Joseph Viscuso aboard three engines knocked down the fire “within minutes.”

– Karen Zautyk and Ron Leir

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