Trial By Fire and Water

A New Jersey city is torched, and the Gulf Coast drenched

The alarm shattered a droning Labor Day in Passaic, N.J., a gritty industrial city of 58,000 that lies practically in the shadow of Manhattan's towers. When fire fighters reached the scene, they encountered what one called "a ball of fire" about 50 ft. high roaring down an alley of the factory complex alongside the city's namesake river. The blaze churned into an inferno that leapt explosively from building to building, incinerating one instantaneously and then--boom!--vaulting on to the next. In the end, some 1,000 fire fighters were powerless to stop it. Fueled by a variety of industrial-use chemicals stored in the...

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