Thirty-five years ago, on Labor Day in 1985, two Passaic boys unwittingly set a fire that would destroy an estimated 20% of the industrial base in a city already under considerable duress.
In all, about 2.2 million square feet of industrial space burned down.
The fire, known forever after as the Labor Day Fire, produced heat so intense it caused nearby buildings to combust before flames reached them.
It left 2,000 jobless and hundreds homeless as the conflagration destroyed 17 multi-family homes and scores of businesses. A firefighter from Secaucus died of a heart attack after responding to a mutual aid call.
"This was a huge deal," City Historian Mark Auerbach said. "Passaic's strength was based on its industry." The fire's scar remains. Seventeen acres of the 22 consumed are still either vacant or largely abandoned, costing the city millions in tax revenues.