A body has been found in the charred wreckage of a waste management facility in New Jersey following a raging five-alarm fire a day earlier that spewed thick columns of black smoke into the air, authorities confirmed Wednesday.
The victim has yet to be identified, but authorities say they believe it is the lone worker who was unaccounted for when the fire erupted on Julia Street in Elizabeth the prior afternoon.
The worker's daughter went to the scene of the fire when her father didn't come home after his shift Tuesday night, and her worst fears were realized when she saw his car still in the parking lot. She told reporters that her father was 70 years old and was going to retire soon after working more than 30 years at the trash transfer facility, where he most recently worked as a forklift operator.
A friend of the victim, who has not yet been publicly identified, said his wife was sick at home.
"He went home faithfully every day to his wife, fed her, gave her her medicine, took her to the doctor," said friend Michelle Johnson. "He was a great man. If you needed him for anything, he was always there for you. He never told nobody no, no matter what it was...He was a hard-working man, a wonderful man. I'm gonna miss him, I really am."
Authorities initially responded to the Julia Street blaze around 2 p.m. Tuesday. It quickly escalated to five alarms, enshrouding firefighters in oppressive smoke as they worked to douse the flames. A roof partially collapsed as well, the Elizabeth mayor said.
Firefighters could only contain the flames and keep people away, for their own safety. The fire was placed under control after about nine hours. Nearby homes were evacuated as the blaze raged, and machinery may have sparked the fire.
Many who live in the area were concerned about the air quality, especially considering what was burning. The facility is a bulk waste transfer station, for larger items like construction waste and furniture, according to officials.
Authorities have not yet said how the massive blaze started.
The investigation is ongoing.