Police & Fire

Federal Agents Sift Through Debris and Rubble Looking for Cause of Hillsborough Warehouse Fire

The fire has just begun to spread across the warehouse roof. Credits: Rod Hirsch
Royal Cabinet suffered extensive water damage and the loss of its compressor room but owner Paul McDonald expects to resume operations.
Royal Cabinet owner Paul McDonald looks away as the fire continues to spread across the rooftop adjacent to his business, at right. Credits: Rod Hirsch

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ – Investigators from the Federal Division of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives continued their investigation into the cause of the massive fire that consumed 300,000 square feet at two warehouses in Veterans Industrial Park last week.

Huge plumes of black, acrid smoke billowed across the skies of central New Jersey, littering nearby neighborhoods and businesses with ash and shards of asphalt roofing material. At one point, weather radar tracked the plume past the Jersey shore and into the Atlantic Ocean, a distance of 43 miles.

The fire, which began about 3 p.m. Thursday, burned out of control through the night and into Friday before it was declared contained more than 15 hours later. Mop-up operations continued through the weekend.

Sign Up for E-News

More than one dozen businesses and hundreds of employees were impacted by the devastating blaze.

Left behind is a charred landscape of blackened timbers, thousands of concrete blocks scattered in haphazard patterns, downed wires, scorched trailer trucks, burned-out forklifts and other industrial equipment left unrecognizable by the intense heat.

The property and buildings are owned by the federal government. The warehouses and other structures on the property date back to World War II, and were built with wooden timbers and concrete blocks. There was very little steel incorporated into the buildings.

Generators as big as jet engines and other heavy-duty equipment were trundled in to the complex on flat bed tow trucks while other trucks continued to spread salt on the roadways inside the complex which stretches for one mile along Route 206 South. Power to the complex was cut off by PSE&G.

ATF agents from the US Department of Justice interviewed owners of businesses within the complex through the weekend and scoured the rubble trying to pinpoint the cause of the fire.

Paul McDonald, president and owner of Royal Cabinet, is one of the lucky ones.

His woodworking business was on the other side of the firewall where the fire started. The 40,000-square-foot space suffered only minor damage, according to McDonald. The stiff wind blew the flames away from the unit in the building.

“There’s water all over the place, one-half to one inch, our compressor room suffered some damage and a CNC machine (a numeric drilling and routing machine programmed by computer) is probably damaged,” McDonald said. “Until we get the power back on we won’t know if it will run again."

“The other equipment is pretty much untouched, the finishing room, our offices are all in good shape,” he added.

The fire did destroy a portion of the roof over the compressor room, measuring about 10 square feet, according to McDonald.

He credits firefighters for saving his business.

“They were at the back side of the building, they were worried about the tankers on the railroad tracks,  they hosed down the back deck and sent guys inside the building with a hose,” he said.

Firefighters trained the hose on the inside of the roof to keep it as cooled down as possible, hoping to stave off the flames from spreading across the parapet that separated the two units, according to McDonald.

A document storage company was in the same building as Royal Cabinet. A moving and storage company was also in the first building to catch fire, as well as Midstate Packaging, which has the biggest presence in the complex. It stores and ships plastic pellets, the raw material used in extrusion and molding of plastic bottles and other plastic products.

Operation New Hope, a manufacturing and materials handling company operated by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, was also decimated in the blaze. It was in the second building to ignite after the flames jumped the railroad tracks in between the two buildings.

A strong wind close to 30 mph quickly spread the flames across the flat roofs of both warehouses, fed by the asphalt and tar roofing material.

McDonald said he was interviewed by the ATF and a Hillsborough police detective on Saturday.

“They wanted to interview anybody who was close to that scene," he said. "They asked the normal questions, ‘who has access to the building, did you recently change your insurance,’ the standard check-the-box type of questions."

Anxious to know when he could begin putting the pieces back together, McDonald said he was told it could be anywhere between two and 10 days.

“They did say they were not leaving until they find the cause of the fire,” McDonald said, “but how can you tell what happened inside those buildings? That’s got to be difficult.”

McDonald and other business owners throughout the complex were contacted by insurers, adjusters and others looking to help.

“I got e-mails from brokers that night and insurance adjusters the next day,” McDonald said. “Fortunately, I’ve got good insurance, it’s not like this is the end of the world, it’s just going to be a pain getting things back up and running again."

Customized Distribution Systems of Wharton sent an e-mail shortly after 11 a.m. on Friday as the complex continued to spew smoke from the rubble.

“The management team of Customized Distribution Services, Inc., a national provider of third-party warehousing and logistics solutions . . .  was deeply moved by the losses suffered in the industrial park fire in Hillsborough, NJ last night and recognizes that a number of companies and employees may be impacted by these tragic events," the letter read. "The company remains willing and able to provide whatever assistance may be necessary during this time of need.”

In addition to interim warehousing, CDS offered its job listing service to employees in the complex left without a job.

Hillsborough resident Andy Leopardo, owner and operator of Leopard Towing and Heavy Hauling, also made a round of phone calls Monday to businesses in the complex, offering to provide any trucking needs or storage trailers.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Bridgewater Police Investigating Theft of Children's Miracle Network Donation Bin, According to Report

May 25, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater Township Police are investigating a report of a theft of a Children's Miracle Network donation bin from convenience store on Route 22 May 21, according to a report.

According to the report, a Speedway employee reported that someone stole the bin from the counter inside the store. The collection bin, the report said, contained an unknown amount of ...

Jacobus Vanderveer House Designated A Blue Star Museum

May 20, 2018

BEDMINSTER, NJ - Bedminster’s historic Jacbous Vanderveer House & Museum has been designated a Blue Star Museum, one of more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission to the nation’s active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  The Jacobus Vanderveer House & Museum is one of 24 Blue Star Museums in New ...

Congressman Lance To Hold Annual Service Academy Information Fair

May 27, 2018

FLEMINGTON, NJ – Congressman Leonard Lance, U.S. Representative for New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District, announced he will hold his annual Service Academy Information Fair high school students June 16.

"I look forward to the Service Academy Information Fair every year and meeting the talented and poised young leaders from our district,” said Congressman Lance.

The ...

'Turning Off the Morning News' brings comic twist

‘Turning Off the Morning News’ tackles today’s issues with a comic twist

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, N J – Despite the late night comics, no one quite captures the insanity of the political/social status world like Christopher Durang.

His latest play, “Turning off the Morning News” hit the ground running.  John Pankow as Jimmy addresses the audience, ...

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Sustains Timeless Appeal

SUMMIT, NJ – The Summit Playhouse provides a stellar production of a much loved classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The Harper Lee novel, later a Gregory Peck film and now a stage production, retains all the warmth, intensity and integrity that made it such an appealing hit in the 1960s. And there will be a new production on Broadway in December with a script by Aaron Sorkin ...

To Borrow or Not to Borrow?

If you are like me, you have debt. Whether it’s your mortgage, student loans, or credit cards – or all of the above – most people carry debt. It helps us pay off important but high cost expenses over time and makes them affordable and it helps us through difficult times when perhaps our cash flow isn’t what we need it to be. However, sometimes it just feels ...

The (Wrong) Advice Your Doctor Gave You

It's all too often that a patient comes to my clinic afraid to squat because their Doctor had told them "it's bad for your knees."

Patients seem confused when I smile back and ask, "How did you just sit down and stand up out of that chair if you aren't able to squat?"

You see, advice like this is handed out all too often, and I'm on a mission to have ...

Vehicular Homicide Charges for Driver of Paramus School Bus

May 24, 2018

MORRISTOWN, NJ - The driver of a school bus involved in a crash on Route 80 last week that killed two people faces two counts of second-degree vehicular homicide/death by auto, it was announced today.

The driver, Hudy Muldrow, 77, of Woodland Park, attempted to make an illegal U-Turn on the highway in an attempt to find his way to Waterloo Village, the planned destination of the bus that was ...