Veteran New York Yankees radio broadcaster John Sterling was among the hundreds left homeless by a blaze that tore through a New Jersey apartment complex Wednesday night.
“Maybe I’ll get lucky and there won’t be that much damage,” Sterling told The New York Daily News while taking refuge in a hotel Wednesday. “I don’t know what to expect. Now, I have nowhere to go. And I need a toothbrush.”
Sterling told the Daily News that he was returning to The Avalon at Edgewater -- located along the Hudson River across from Manhattan -- and was about to board an elevator when he could smell “intense smoke.”
“I went to my elevators (at the back of the building) and tried walking in, but the smoke was so intense I said to myself, ‘John, you better get the hell out of here.’ So I just drove away,” he recalled.
“I have to laugh,” Sterling told The New York Post. “Because I always hear I have too many ties -- I must have had 82,000 ties. Now I have none!”
Sterling was one of the hundreds of residents forced to evacuate the blaze that broke out on the first floor of the building Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters went door-to-door as the flames moved quickly through the 240-unit structure, Fire Chief Thomas Jacobson said. They made three rescues and no one was missing.
The building's sprinklers were working, but the lightweight, wooden structure fueled the flames and made fighting the fire difficult, the fire chief said.
"It's very difficult because once it's in the walls and floors, we're chasing it," Jacobson said.
The building complied with construction and fire codes, the fire chief said, but he added: "If it was made out of cinder block and concrete, we wouldn't have this problem."
Edgewater Mayor Michael McPartland said approximately 240 units were destroyed and 168 units in a nearby complex were saved.
The Red Cross established a shelter for approximately 500 residents who were permanently displaced from the apartment complex, including New York Yankees announcer John Sterling, and approximately 520 who were temporarily displaced from surrounding buildings, the mayor said.
Two civilians and two firefighters sustained minor injuries.
While there was no immediate indication the fire was suspicious, investigators will sort through the charred, smoldering rubble seeking to determine the point of origin and cause, Police Chief William Skidmore said.
More than 14 years ago, a fire started at the same location where a five-story condominium complex was under construction and destroyed nine homes and damaged several others. The Aug. 30, 2000, fire forced the evacuation of dozens of nearby residents, including patients at a nearby nursing home. The cause was never determined, although investigators ruled out arson.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.