For a second day, firefighters in northern New Jersey on Thursday battled a huge warehouse fire that created thick plumes of black smoke visible from miles away, including from the New Jersey Turnpike. No injuries were reported.
Elizabeth Fire Director Onofrio Vitullo said it could be days before the fire is extinguished.
Hazardous waste experts for the county determined the smoke did not pose a threat to residents, Mayor J. Christian Bollwage said.
By Thursday afternoon, more than 250 firefighters had been involved in efforts to contain the blaze; by the evening, the fire reached eight alarms.
Residents gathered nearby to watch in disbelief as the longtime area landmark burned.
"It's pretty sad... to see it going up like this, it hurts," Karen Muhammad, who grew up in Elizabeth, told NBC New York. "It's a lot of memories in this area for me."
The blaze likely started with a car fire Wednesday afternoon inside a body shop in the former Burry Biscuits warehouse, which is now divided into a number of smaller businesses, Vitullo said.
Fuel from the car likely leaked and ignited other areas, including the basement, which made it difficult to reach the fire, officials said.
Luis Lopez was working on the basement level of the building on Wednesday when co-workers reported smoke coming from the back of the building. He said they moved forklifts and containers to a higher level and then fled.
He said a wall had collapsed near a loading dock where he loads containers to ship plastics overseas.
The fire was contained to an isolated section of the enormous complex.
But around the corner, homes shut their windows and doors tightly against the smoke and acrid smell, despite officials' assurances that the smoke did not present a threat.
"We try to just get in the car and go where we have to go and then come back and then run inside the house," said mother Jessica Martinez, whose daughter has asthma. "We don't want them to have to inhale that smoke -- and then we're gonna pay the consequences later on."