NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Firefighters battled a fire that started in a vacant home at 42 Joyce Kilmer Ave. on Wednesday night and sent smoke billowing for blocks away.

Eyewitnesses said flames could be seen shooting out the upstairs windows by the time firefighters arrived.

Deputy Chief Dean Warnell said reports of the fire came in at 7:22 p.m. As of 9 p.m., he did not know whether anyone had been injured or what caused the fire.

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The family that lived next door in a one-story home were not injured, bit the home suffered damage. Rodrigo Martinez said he has lived there with his brother, Jorge, and their sister and mother for about six years.

He said no one was home when the fire started.

However, he and his brother were at the gym when they got a call alerting them to the fire.

"We rushed back home and we were running around like crazy, looking for our sister," Martinez said. "She had left her cell phone in the house, so we couldn't call her.

"We finally found her with our dog at our aunt's house. It was such a relief."

He stood about 50 yards away while firefighters continued to douse the flames. He said the family had not been able to get back inside to check on their belongings.

When asked if he was worried that some of their property had been damaged, he said, "That doesn't matter. We're all healthy. That's the only thing that matters."

Martinez said his family was probably going to stay with his brother in law, Oscar Carrano.

Carrano said saw a man leaving the vacant house minutes before the fire.

Martinez said people would go into the house at night to sleep and to use drugs. 

The smoke from the fire was so strong that people at the City Council meeting at City Hall thought there was an issue with the air conditioning. It turned out it was the fire several blocks away.