Building Burning

Smoke from an Elizabeth warehouse fire was visible from large portions of the city Thursday afternoon..

ELIZABETH — Officials say it could be days before the eight-alarm fire at the former Burry Biscuits cookie factory is extinguished.

Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage said the blaze is believed to have started Wednesday afternoon with a car fire inside a sub-basement section of the Newark Avenue warehouse.

Deputy Fire Chief Carl Heitmeyer said that among the companies leasing space in the structure is one that exports junked vehicles.

Elizabeth fire officials say the blaze has so badly compromised the structure that interior sections of the building have begun to collapse under the heat, forcing firefighters to work to contain it exclusively from the outside.

Despite the severity of the fire, Bollwage said that no injuries have been reported.

Bollwage initially claimed fumes from the fire do not pose a health risk, according to newspaper reports, but an advisory was issued Thursday instructing area residents to close their windows and avoid using ventilation systems that bring in air from outside.

Union County spokesperson Sebastian D’Elia said health officials monitoring air quality at the scene determined that no immediate hazard existed as of Thursday afternoon, but he cautioned that the situation could change.

More than 250 firefighters from 35 companies were working at the scene , fighting a fire that has yet to be controlled.

A plume of dark gray smoke rising from the fire was for visible for miles Thursday; a smaller smoke plume can still be seen from a distance today.

Burning Building Has History

William Durant, one of the founders of General Motors, a pioneer of the United States automobile industry and a rival of Henry Ford; purchased the quarter-mile long, three-story building from Willy’s Overland in 1921.

Durant Motors Inc. was established in 1921 by former General Motors CEO William “Billy” Durant following his termination by the GM board of directors and the New York bankers that financed GM.

June 1922, Durant purchased the Willys-Overland Elizabeth, NJ plant. The purchase includes the pilot model of a car that became the Flint 6 (model E-55).

At the Elizabeth Durant Motor Company facility, about 400 “Durant Stars” and 150 of the models known as “Durant Four” were produced each day.

Business was booming prior to the Great Depression and the company had a backlog of orders for the Durant Star, a five passenger, 4-cylinder car with sliding-gear transmission and self-starter, to retail at $348.00, lower than Ford’s Model T.

To meet the demand, Durant Motors often had to work three shifts to fill the backlog of orders.

Initially, Durant Motors enjoyed success based upon Billy Durant’s track record at General Motors where he assembled independent makes Chevrolet, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac.

However when sales failed to meet volumes sufficient to sustain Durant Motors holdings, the firm’s financial footing began to slip.

As a result, Durant Motors began losing market share and dealers. The final models, produced under the Durant brand, rolled off the assembly line in 1931 but continued in Canada as Durant Frontenac.

However, he was unable to duplicate his former success, and the financial woes of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression proved fatal as the company failed in 1933.

Billy Durant died nearly broke at age 85 in 1947, the same year as Henry Ford, age 83.

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