NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Jay Patel stood on the sidewalk on Easton Avenue and watched his dreams destroyed by an early morning fire.
"I got a call in the middle of the night," said Patel, owner of the Welsh Farms Convenience store. "It's a horrible feeling watching the fire. Everything is gone now. I owned that store for six years. And now it's gone."
The damage to Patel's store and the neighboring Amsterdam Smoke Shop was evident in the morning light. Windows had been smashed and smoke stains were visible on the facade of the building. The apartments at the top of the building were heavily damaged, too. The part of the roof visible from across Easton Avenue was destroyed.
Siding and wood from the building's structure were still scattered in the alleyways on either side of the building. There was some debris still in the street, remnants of firefighters' battle with the blaze.
As of 10 a.m., New Brunswick Police still had most of Easton Avenue between Hamilton and Somerset streets blocked off.
Several eyewitnesses said the fire started at about 2 a.m.
"I was about to go to sleep," said Courtney Whitest, who lives across the street. "The boys didn't have school today so we were up pretty late. The house was quiet and I just saw a cloud of smoke. It looked like a storm cloud. It was a very purplish area. I was like, 'I didn't know rain was in the forecast.' Then I stood up and I just saw smoke and I was like, 'Oh my God. The building is on fire.'"
Jose Acevedo, who works at the nearby The Halal Guys, said he got off work at about 2:15 a.m. He saw passers-by throwing rocks and bottles at the windows in the back of the building in an attempt to wake up the tenants.
One man escaped the fire through the front door and was wandering around Easton Avenue in a daze, wearing just a pair of shorts, Acevedo said.
It is unknown if anyone was hurt in the fire, but eyewitnesses said firefighters had the blaze under control by about 4 a.m.
Firefighters returned to the scene at about 9:15 a.m. New Brunswick Fire Department Engines 1 and 5 responded. One firefighter got up on a ladder on the side of the house and sprayed it with water.
For Patel and Ayman Al, owner of the Amsterdam Smoke Shop, all that was left was to clean up and board up the windows and wait for the day they can reopen.
"An employee called me and said, 'There's a fire in the back,'" Al said. "I live about five minutes from here. I came right away. That's what happened. . . . Now I have to close the store. I'm waiting for my guy to come with the stuff to close it.
"Sometimes, there's nothing you can do. I just hope they do it fast that way we can go back to work as normal," he said.