3 young girls, adult killed as gate traps people fleeing fire (UPDATE)
ELIZABETH — At least three young girls and an adult have been killed in a fire that drew dozens of firefighters and continued well into Monday evening.
This story has been updated with new information from the City of Elizabeth. Officials earlier had accounted for two deaths. As of about 11 a.m., at least four people are known to have died.
City spokesperson Kelly Martins in an email to New Jersey 101.5 said she was correcting earlier information and that the building was "not a residential unit, this is a commercial building." None of those killed were residents of the building, which some reports earlier incorrectly described as apartments above stores.
She said in her updated message two more people were found deceased than reported earlier — an adult and a child. The newly identified victims were Paola Marquez, 10, and Candida Martinez-Del Reyes, 41.
She also identified the victims described but not named in earlier reports: Daniela Marquez, 8 and Elizabeth Correas, 11, had died.
Merlyn Vasquez, 36, was critically injured, Martins said. Vasquez is Daniela Marquez's mother.
Earlier reports from the city said an adult male was in critical condition. Martins said that was not in fact the case.
She said the fire started in a soda machine in a store on the ground floor, in a party store. Staff tried to put the out fire but couldn’t, she said.
People shopping upstairs in a furniture store tried to get out, but couldn't because of a locked gate, Martins said. Police and firefighters also struggled to get access to the building because of the gate, she said.
The furniture helped fuel the fire flames, Elizabeth fire director Patrick Byrnes told CBS New York.
"There was a lot of furniture in there. A lot of combustible material and it was hard to control this fire from spreading," Byrnes said. He said it took an hour to bring the fire under control.
The party supply store in the building contained helium tanks, NBC New York reported.
Witness Miguel Patrikio told CBS New York he heard a lot of little "explosions" coming inside the store.
Twenty-four people from 8 families were displaced by the fire and assisted by Red Cross New Jersey, the organization said. Martins said those were residents of nearby apartments evacuated as a precaution.