There were no initial reports of injuries in the blaze that broke out around 4:30 p.m. at The Avalon at Edgewater in the city of Edgewater, located along the Hudson River across from Manhattan. Authorities said everyone in the four-story building apparently was able to get out safely. They had not determined the cause of the fire.
Residents were ordered to evacuate and were led to a nearby school. As the fire continued to rage, hundreds who lived at the complex, including New York Yankees announcer John Sterling, wondered what would be left of their homes.
"I don't know what to expect. Now, I have nowhere to go. And I need a toothbrush," Sterling told the New York Daily News after finding a hotel room.
Plumes of thick, black smoke issued from the blaze, and New York emergency officials advised residents in Manhattan and the Bronx that they might see or smell smoke.
Edgewater Mayor Michael McPartland declared a local state of emergency. He said schools would be closed on Thursday and access to roads would be restricted until further notice.
Hours after the fire started, the entire building was engulfed in flames, The Record of Bergen, N.J., reported. Hamza Abdul told the newspaper he was at work when a colleague called to tell him about the fire so he rushed home.
"I can't believe it," he said. "It's all ashes now."
He told the newspaper he planned to stay at a friend's house.
Authorities cordoned off some streets around the burning building, but no major traffic problems were reported.
More than 14 years ago, a fire started at the same location where a five-story condominium complex was under construction and destroyed nine homes and damaged several others. The Aug. 30, 2000, fire forced the evacuation of dozens of nearby residents, including patients at a nearby nursing home. The cause was never determined, although investigators ruled out arson.