Fire that killed 2 firefighters, injured 5 more still burning on Port Newark cargo ship in NJ

Fire in Newark has been burning for over 30 hours

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Friday, July 7, 2023
Fire that killed 2 firefighters, injured 5 more still burning in NJ
2 members of the Newark Fire Department were killed while battling a blaze in a New Jersey port. The fire continued to burn Friday.

PORT NEWARK, N.J. -- The fire on a cargo ship at Port Newark that killed two firefighters over 30 hours prior continued to burn Friday morning.

The firefighting efforts were being prolonged by vehicle gas tanks that continue to explode, adding literal fuel to the fire.

Newark's fire chief said his department did not have adequate training or equipment to deal with the flames, and that dealing with cars filled with gas on a cargo ship is extremely difficult.

The two firefighters were killed after they became trapped while fighting the blaze Wednesday night.

The fire broke out around 9:30 p.m. at Export Street and Marsh Street in Newark.

Newark firefighters were dispatched to the location following a report of multiple vehicles on fire on a ship at Port Newark.

The fire started on the 10th deck as crew members and local stevedores were moving cars, vans and trucks.

Upon arrival, firefighters located the fire, which broke out in five to seven cars and spread to the 11th and 12th floors of the ship, named the Grande Costa D'Avorio.

"Members made an attempt to extinguish the fire but got pushed back by the intense heat. Two firefighters were lost while conducting this action of backing out of the structure," Newark Fire Chief Rufus Jackson said.

The firefighters were eventually located inside the large ship and pronounced dead.

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Those victims were identified as Augusto "Augie" Acabou, 45, and Wayne "Bears" Brooks Jr., 49.

Acabou was a nine-year veteran of the of the Newark Fire Department and was assigned to Engine 16.

Brooks served for 16.5 years and was assigned to Ladder 4.

The last time a Newark firefighter was killed was 2007 in a motorcycle crash.

The mayor vividly described the bodies lowered from a pulley while firefighters lined up on both sides to pay respects.

"That image will forever be stamped in my mind for how dangerous this job is," Mayor Ras Baraka said.

Newark Fire Chief Jackson said Newark firefighters had been trained to fight fires on cruise ships and other vessels that contain living quarters, but not one that carried vehicles.

"This was definitely a unique fire for us," Jackson said.

Jackson said five firefighters were injured while battling the flames.

Three of those victims were members of the Newark Fire Department, and two from the Elizabeth Fire Department. They were transported to University Hospital in Newark for treatment.

The ship was carrying thousands of vehicles.

No electric cars or hazardous cargo were on the ship. The ship is not spilling fuel or in danger of sinking.

This ship generally operates between the U.S. and West Africa. It carries more than 1,200 new and used vehicles and 157 containers.

During the press conference, Mayor Baraka said the city will be having "a long conversation" with the Port Authority about firefighting at the agency's locations.

"That's a long conversation that we're going to have from now until we get some real resolution to what needs to be done as we move forward," he said. "This is a fire that took place on Port Authority property. They call us when there are big structural fires, we come out to assist them in extinguishing these fires. Obviously, this became an issue where they just didn't have the capacity at all to deal with what was going on, so we had to take full control."

Following the news of the fire, Gov. Phil Murphy released a statement saying: "Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the loss of two Newark firefighters, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. Tammy and I extend our deepest condolences to their families and loved ones, and we pray that those injured have a full and speedy recovery. This tragedy is a painful reminder of the dangers our firefighters face and their remarkable courage."

The Grimaldi Group also released a statement saying, "The Italian-flag vessel was completing the loading operations of various rolling units (cars, vans, trucks) when the fire started at deck n 10 which was attended by local stevedores and crew members. The crew of the vessel immediately activated the on-board fire suppression procedures while the local firefighting service were alerted, and their prompt response played a crucial role in containing and bringing the fire under control. Sadly, during the firefighting operations, Grimaldi Deep Sea were informed that two firefighters lost their lives. All Company's thoughts, prayers and sympathies are with their families and team currently. At this time, it is not known how the fire started but the Company will undertake a full investigation in close cooperation with all relevant authorities."