New Jersey Tire Company Fire Spreads to Homes

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Firefighters in southern New Jersey battled a multi-alarm blaze that spread from an abandoned tire factory to nearby row homes Thursday.

The fire in Camden broke out around 3:30 p.m. in the vacant Reliable Tire Co. factory building. The company moved out several years ago, according to a report on Philadelphia's WPVI-TV.

Dozens of firefighters from Camden and surrounding communities battled the blaze in near 100-degree temperatures. Smoke and flames were visible from Philadelphia and over a wide area of its New Jersey suburbs.

Television news photos showed flames shooting through the roof of the three-story brick factory building and firefighters hosing down the roofs of row homes on the same block.

The Camden mayor's office said several homes had to be evacuated. Camden County emergency management officials brought in buses Thursday evening to take some residents to a safer location.

By 6:15 p.m., the fire had spread to four or five nearby homes, according to Allen Velez, a member of the Woodlynne Fire Co., one of many suburban fire companies called in to assist Camden firefighters.

Onlookers reported hearing three or four loud booms as the flames consumed the L-shaped factory building, which occupies nearly a full city block.

Service on the PATCO rail line, which carries commuters between Philadelphia and its southern New Jersey suburbs, was suspended in the area, according to TV news reports.

Television news reports said two firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion. Firefighters were forced to take frequent breaks, using water-soaked towels on their necks to cool down from the intense heat.

Emmanuel Lopez, 23, said he was sleeping with his 4-year-old stepdaughter when the fire started across the street from his home in the city's Parkside neighborhood. The two fled the home with Lopez's mother, and he went next door to help evacuate his cousin's 3-year-old triplets.

"All I could see is smoke," Lopez said. "I just wanted to get the kids out of the house."

Several residents grabbed hoses and spread water on their homes and lawns in a bid to stop any embers or flames from igniting their property. Among them was 31-year-old Jackie Rivera, who was keeping a close watch on the fire along with her four children.

A cemetery separates Rivera's home and the burning factory, and she said its lawn was briefly on fire.

"Now we're scared (our home) might catch on fire too," she said.

Iris Bones, 27, was at work when the fire started, and she came to make sure her boyfriend and their four children -- who range in age from 11 months to 9 years -- were safe. Bones said she often sees people around the abandoned buildings and wondered if one of them could have played a role in sparking the fire.

"People are always just coming in and out of those abandoned buildings, it's a big problem," she said.