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Paterson Riverside Station - Photo by Dr. Thomas Dayspring

Thursday, July 23, 2015


On Aug. 13, 1944, a deadly fire swept a North Jersey landmark - the Palisades Amusement Park, which straddled Fort Lee and Cliffside Park. 

There were six fatalities - three boys and three girls - and 125 injuries in the swift-moving blaze that started at the Virginia Reel ride, according to the Sept. 1944 edition of Fire Engineering magazine.

The 15-acre park was especially busy that day with families seeking relief from a fourth successive day of record-breaking hot weather.

An estimated 25,000 people fled from the flames,  the Associated Press said. Fire Engineering placed the number of evacuees closer to 19,000 (15,000 from the park itself and 4,000 from the area of a salt water surf swimming pool.)

Some scaled fences to safety.

Firemen from 18 municipalities answered the alarm and a Fort Lee fire engine was burnt while pumping water.

Ambulances responded from as far away as Jersey City.

Fire Engineering described the Virginia Reel, where the blaze started, as a ride "
built in the shape of a mountain" with bucket cars pulled to the top and released down "a twisting, turning path, passing through a small tunnel."

Here's how it happened:

A car carrying children started down the Virginia Reel when "flames knifed through the structure" setting the car ablaze, Fire Engineering said.

A girl emerged from the car at the bottom of the ride with her clothes on fire.

Rescuers, including a soldier and a priest, pulled the other children "huddled" in the car.

As the fire spread it "seemed to create its own draft."

Flames leaped 50-feet and "hop skipped" to the park's roller coaster.

Other rides were "going up in  smoke  almost before water could be gotten on them," Fire Engineering said.

Aggravating the situation, there may have been a delay turning in the alarm to the fire department.

When it was over, t
hree quarters of the park was destroyed and between 70 and 100 autos were burned  in the parking lot, according to the Associated Press.

Among the fire departments in attendance:

Town of Palisades Park
Fort Lee
Cliffside Park
North Bergen
Union City

Ridgefield Park
Hasbrouck Heights
Englewood Cliffs

SOURCES: Fire Engineering, Associated Press