HILLSBOROUGH: Route 206 near industrial park fire scene hoped to reopen by rush hour (Updated)


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After closing Route 206 for a portion of Friday afternoon to continue fighting a major warehouse fire, Hillsborough Township police hope to have it reopened by rush hour.
The road was closed for “ongoing firefighting operations” to battle a blaze that broke out Thursday afternoon in the Somerville Industrial Park on the west side of Route 206 between Brown Avenue and Camplain Road.
The road was closed because it was likely fire hoses leading to the nearest hydrant, which is near Brown Avenue, were across the roadway, said Township Chief Fire Marshal Christopher Weniger.
While a large cloud of smoke rising from the fire could be seen for miles around, Mayor Frank DelCore said the fire has basically been contained, but was still burning. Speaking at two press conferences Friday, the mayor reported two injuries to firefighters — one to an eye and one to a leg — but he said he didn’t know which department’s firefighters were involved. He also didn’t know if they had been hospitalized.
The fire was first reported about 3 p.m. Thursday, when an alarm came in that water sprinklers in a building had activated. Gray-black clouds with a slight chemical smell continued to rise Friday morning, but were diminishing by the hour, the township’s health officer said at about 2:15 p.m.
Township Health Officer Glen Belnay said that the smoke plume had “diminished rapidly” and that data from monitoring stations placed around the area assured him enough to be able to say that “at this point there is no imminent public threat.”
Dr. Belnay said the health officials were particularly watching for measurements of particulates — minute bits of burning material carried in the air.
He said state and federal environmental agency experts and equipment and placed around the area had made a difference in helping to determine if there was ever a health threat, said Dr. Belnay.
Dr. Belnay expected representatives of the two agencies to remain until the fire was out and there was no plume — certainly through the weekend, he said.
At one point during the night when the winds had stilled, there was one measurement of overexposure and another approaching the threshold, he said. He said the two “spikes” were “outliers” and that all the data of the smoke showed no danger in the total of suspended particulates carried by the smoke.
The blaze called on the resources of volunteer firefighters from 30 neighboring towns in five counties —Somerset, Mercer, Hunterdon, Warren and Morris. On Thursday night, there were an estimated 200 vehicles on site, said the mayor, who extended “thanks and a debt of gratitude” to the volunteers from the township and other areas.
On Friday, there were still 50 to 100 firefighters at the scene, Mr. Weniger said.
Near-zero temperatures, combined with a steady wind, plagued fire fighting Thursday night, said Mr. Weniger. Icing was a big problem.
During the brunt of the blaze, excessive heat fanned by wind — often in their faces — stymied some of firefighters’ normal tactics, Mr. Weniger said. Most wore self-contained breathing apparatus that helped them battle the fire for 30 minutes at a time before they had to be relieved.
Six to 10 tower trucks were in use during the night.
There were no occupants in the buildings. Officials said they haven’t had a chance to identify a cause for ignition.
Mayor DelCore specifically rebutted rumors of the threat of mercury contamination in air quality. He said local and federal government efforts removed the mercury in 2010 to a site in Nevada. The warehouse at Veterans Industrial Park had been used by the federal Defense Logistics Agency Depot as a storage facility for 12,500 barrels of mercury since the early 1940s.
Friday’s black plumes are likely exacerbated from “millions of pounds” of plastic pellets stored in one of the burning buildings, said Mr. Weniger.
Two of four warehouse buildings in the industrial park, which is owned by the federal government with space leased to businesses, were on fire. Each building is about 240,000 square feet — 1,240 feet long, he said. In addition to the plastic pellets, there was a cabinet-making business and a major warehouse for paper records.
The buildings were made of wood with wooden truss ceilings and flat roofs, allowing the fire to be spread along the roofline, Mr. Weniger said
Although there are hydrants in the industrial park, much of the water to fight the fire was being shuttled by fire companies employing tankers from a water source at the fire academy.
Firefighters were rotated away from the site, either going home or to the nearby county fire training facility on Roycefield Road. The volunteers were called in 10- to 12-hour shifts, with the next shift scheduled to report at 3 p.m. Friday.
Township schools were closed on Friday, but they will be open on Monday, the mayor said. All weekend activities should go on as scheduled.
The mayor said Friday afternoon that electricity service had been restored to 48 homes in the area, but not to the industrial park. 

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