IRVINGTON, N.J. – A fast-moving fire roared through a motel catering to low-income people, killing three people and injuring some firefighters.
The cause of Sunday's blaze at the Irvington Motor Lodge (search) remained under investigation. The victims were only identified as a man and two women, leaving many area residents wondering if their loved ones were among those killed.
While officials were going through the scene seeking clues, about 30 people gathered behind the yellow police tape that cordoned off the scene, shouting out questions and handing pictures of loved ones to firefighters and police.
Among them was Pamela Hilliard (search), 46, who had been staying on the third-floor of the motel with her mother, daughter, and son. She and the children were not in the room when the fire broke out, and she was trying to determine whether her mother had been able to escape.
"I'm praying it wasn't her," said Hilliard.
One family claimed it already knew the answer. Serena Adams (search), 40, said a friend of the family had made it onto the fire scene and identified the body of her cousin, 40-year-old Todd Day (search).
Day's sister Celine broke down sobbing in tears at the barricade, jumping up and down as her mother and other relatives restrained and held her.
"Where is he? I want to see him," she screamed.
Irvington Fire Department Chief Donald Huber (search) said the fire started around 10:30 a.m. in the rear of the first floor and quickly spread through the building, which had about 40 rooms. He said about 20 people were evacuated from the motel, which sustained severe damage.
Huber said there were transients inside who were not familiar with the layout and didn't know how to get out of the building. A few firefighters sustained minor injuries, officials said, but further details were not immediately available.
One of the motel residents, Alecia Smith (search), said she has been paying $95 per night to stay at the motel after losing her Newark apartment.
Smith, 40, was watching television in her first-floor room when she heard a boy out in the hallway saying he couldn't see. She opened the door to a thick cloud of smoke, which caused her to pull her shirt up over her mouth before running out of the main doors nearby.
"I didn't bother with the alarm because it was always going off, but I wish someone had banged on the door, said there was a fire," she said.