Jul 29, 2014
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Six Homes Demolished After Condo Complex Blaze [UPDATE]

One firefighter sustained minor injuries; Residents were evacuated and none were hurt in large fire that affected 16 Society Hill homes Wednesday morning

The remnants of six Society Hill II condominium units were bulldozed Wednesday afternoon, after a large fire ravaged a 16-unit block on Sassafras Court, Assistant fire chief, Ed Garza said. 

“They were unstable, because they were burning as long as they were,” Garza said of why the few pieces left standing after the hours-long fire had to be reduced to nothing.

“With the strong winds [Wednesday night], we didn’t want to take the chance that it would be blown down and hurt someone,” he said.

No residents were hurt in the fire, which completely destroyed six Society Hill condo units and partially damaged ten others, authorities said.

One Mahwah firefighter was transfered to Valley Hospital during the fire to be treated for minor burns. "Embers fell behind his collar and burned his neck," Garza said. The burns were, "minor in nature," he said.

All of the units connected to 754, 755, 768 and 769 Sassafras Court, which were completely destroyed by the fire, were evacuated when the fire broke out, at about 9:41 a.m. Wednesday, Mahwah Police Chief James Batelli said.

The Mahwah fire department battled the blaze for over an hour Wednesday morning. During the course of the fire, the second and third floors of the complex collapsed into the first floor, officials said.

Of the four units consumed by the fire, two were occupied and two were vacant, Batelli said. The occupied units were evacuated.

From a “very preliminary” investigation, Batelli said authorities believe the fire started in one of the vacant apartments that was undergoing renovation.

“No workers were [in the unit] at the time of the fire,” Batelli said. However, investigators believe there was a worker at the building Tuesday. Police, fire and rescue officials are working to contact the owner of the unit and worker as part of the investigation into the cause of the blaze, Batelli said.

The cause is unknown at this time, authorities said.

A crane was moved to the scene to demolish the remaining debris, authorities said. Firefighters were on the scene until about 3 p.m., dousing areas of the condos when snow from Winter Storm Athena started falling.

A few dozen residents who lived in the affected 16 units gathered in the Society Hill Clubhouse Wednesday afternoon after being cleared from the surrounding units. Officials were making arrangements for the displaced residents to get housing for the night.

This fire was the second the Mahwah FD responded to Wednesday. The first was a blaze that destroyed a garage and tool shed at Camp Yaw Paw, authorities said. That fire is "suspicious," and currently under investigation by the PD's arson investigator, police said.

In addition to units from all of Mahwah's emergency service departments, fire departments from Wyckoff, Ramsey and Suffern, N.Y. also responded to the Society Hill fire.

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