A pre-dawn fire Sunday that started in one home in Perth Amboy quickly spread to several others, causing building collapses and leaving dozens of people homeless.
The five-alarm inferno tore through the 600 block of Cortlandt Street, plowing through one home and spreading to nearby homes. Perth Amboy firefighters were there en masse, but even their ladders and fire hoses did little against the raging blaze.
When the building on the corner of Huntington and Cortlandt caught fire, for at least a half hour, it was a hopeless task to try to extinguish the blaze. Firefighters tried, but backed off as flames burst through every window of the upper floor, then through the roof, and finally the conflagration caused the rear of the building to collapse.
Just moments before the building collapsed, firefighters moved a fire truck that was parked on Huntington, next to the multi-family building that was ablaze, and moved it away to Cortlandt.
Neighbors stood on the street in their robes and pajamas, no longer sleepy at an inferno where the raging heat could be felt almost a block away.
"Around 3:30, we heard something, we thought it was gun fire," said Fernando Rosa of 669 Cortlandt, who was across the street but so close to the fire that the waves of heat were almost palpable.
"We didn't know what it was at first. It was only the house there" - Rosa gestured to the house in the middle of the block - "where the fire started."
He said that many of the people were streaming out of the houses that were on fire, and other buildings nearby.
Leeann Jones, another neighbor, said that when the blaze first started, the big multi-family house on the corner had no signs of fire.
"I thought it could've been saved," she said. "Unfortunately, it couldn't."
Alarms were called in as early as 4 am; firefighters declared the various blazes under control four hours later.
There were reports of several burn injuries that could not be confirmed at this writing. Perth Amboy Fire Chief David Volk could not be reached for comment.