Remembering the victims of the Hoboken Fires

Photos courtesy the Hoboken Historical Museum


Hoboken NJ – In the late 1970’s into the early 1980’s, hundreds of arson fires occurred across the Mile Square City. 55 Hoboken residents perished in the fires, thousands more made homeless.

Many of these fires began in the early hours before dawn while building residents slept. The vast majority of the victims were Hispanic women and children. In one arson incident alone, on January 2nd, 1979, 21 people died at 131 Clinton St.

Those responsible for the the fires were never convicted. Sadly, numerous fire victims were not named in news accounts at the time. There has been no official recognition or remembrance in the Mile Square City for the horrific loss of life and the anguish Hoboken residents suffered. In their place, new residents moved into refurbished condos having no idea what occurred at an old tenement building before their arrival.

A group of residents have formed to launch the Hoboken Fire Victims Memorial Project, founded in 2018 by Rose Orozco. Rose is a retired nurse who lived and worked in Hoboken through the tumultuous years of the fires.

“On any given night, a fire could erupt engulfing the entire building in flames, killing those who were sleeping. Those Hoboken residents who perished and the thousands affected should be remembered.”

The Hoboken Fire Victims Memorial Project will work to identify the names of the victims of the fires and start efforts toward creating a memorial in Hoboken. Family members who lost a loved one are invited to express their thoughts on the Hoboken Fire Victims Memorial Project Facebook page and share the names of friends and family lost.

The Hoboken Fire Victims Memorial Project committee:

Rose Orozco is the 2018 Founder of the Hoboken Fire Victims Memorial Project. She was a nurse at the former St. Mary’s Hospital and witness to the tragic consequences of the Hoboken fires.

Councilwoman Jen Giattino is the current Hoboken City Council President. She will initiate efforts at City Hall to identify the best location and begin the process for a memorial. “I’m very pleased to support the efforts Rose undertook to honor the victims of the Hoboken fires. I’m sure we’ll see strong support in our Hoboken government,” she predicted.

Tommy Molta, Hoboken Fire Captain (ret.) was an active firefighter and witness to some of the dark days during the Hoboken fires. Currently, he is the President of the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Elaine Ellis Thomas is the Rector of All Saints Episcopal Parish and is planning to organize community conversations, prayer walks and a memorial service. “All Saints played an important role in helping those displaced by the fires, and I am interested in discovering how the church might help in healing some of the most painful memories of those who lived through this traumatic time in Hoboken’s history,” she said.

Holly Metz is the editor of the Hoboken Oral History Project, a project of the Hoboken Historical Museum and the Friends of the Hoboken Public Library. Those efforts have allowed her to hear the stories of many Hobokenites, including Rose. For Holly, this memorial project is part of that listening and documentation of our lives here.

Roman Brice is the editor of The Hudson Mile Square View and has covered Hoboken government, politics and corruption over the past decade.

Roman Brice

Hoboken Fire Victims Memorial Project

(212) 470-897



    • I was close to a lot of those fires during my hanging days and even hung out in some of those buildings prior to those fires happening…I am a Reitired Hoboken Fire Captain who came on the job with my Comrade and Brother Thomas Molta…I lost me Friends in those fires and till this day 121 Willow Ave. is embedded in my brian when Mike Acevedo and his baby daughter died in this fire, my Brother Willie Pittman was able to save the Mother & wife of the deceased…Remember it like it was yesterday ?????????‍♂️?⚘

  1. I remember the fires. I was a Hoboken High School student at the time. I lost a friend. She perished in the Clinton Street fire. It was a frightening time to live in Hoboken. My family and I slept many nights fully dressed in case we had to run for our lives and there were many sleepless nights especially after the fire on the corner of 11 Street and Willow Avenue, just half a block away from our apartment building.

  2. Does anyone remember the fire at 217 Clinton St, around 19 54- 1955 we were the last people out off the building , it started in the ground floor apartment if I remember correctly we were taken out by the fire Dept from the room top, lost everything was on 7 or 8 at the time was wondering if anyone remembered or can find any info to share with me, I no longer live up there and find it difficult to find any info

  3. A lot of Hobokenites believe some fires were deliberately set.To vacate some of these buildings. Im not saying they were,but that is when Hoboken started to change.

  4. My friend lost her sisters in this fire.1982 Twelve people, including seven children, were killed in Hoboken yesterday in a predawn fire that consumed a small four-story hotel largely filled with women and children. Officials said they suspected arson.

    The beige brick structure, at 151 14th Street, at the corner of Bloomfield Street, is called Pinter’s Hotel,The victims were tentatively identified by the police as: Anahilda Perez, 48; her grandson, Angel Perez, 8; Mrs. Perez’s daughters, Olga Garcia, 22, and Luz Delia Garcia, 17; Olga Garcia’s daughter, Katelin Torres, 4 months, and Luz Delia Garcia’s two children, Jorge Negron, 1, and Erica Negron, 3 weeks.
    Also identified as victims were Juan Serrano, 32; his son, Charles, 3; Mr. Serrano’s wife, Francisca Vasquez, 42; her son, Ismael Vasquez, 15; and Xavier Calon, 4.

    • I was actually a DJ spinning records that evening and went to my then girlfriend’s house just before midnight and woke up the next day to the sad loss of life of my friend who loss his Wife and children a d she was pregnant also at the time of her death…Very Sad day in Hoboken, one of many…I believe all together there were 68 innocent lives lost, mostly of Hispanic decent mostly women and children. So Sad ????‍♂️???‍?⚘

  5. I was young but I remember that smell on my father when he walked in the door after fighting those fires, whether he was on duty or not, he went in when they called. After the Clinton Street Fire, my father had horrible dreams for weeks, the deceased babies and children found hugging while hiding under their beds……..I lost a classmate in 3rd grade in the Willow Street Fire across from Wallace School in 1973, her family survived, but she was having a sleepover in another apartment that night. I believe that was one of the first of what was called “Urban Renewal” by some locals, it was a horrible time, where lives didn’t matter. Gasoline poured in hallways and set ablaze with no way out in the middle of the night. I like this idea a lot.

  6. I remember the fires clearly I was just a boy at the time but I remember being woken up in the middle of the night how many times because of the fires. I lived on 11th Street 11th and Park. All the buildings on 11th Street and 11th and Willow as well as 12th end Willow. Those were ugly times.

  7. Hoboken became a money city so the owners wanted more money and they paid for these fires so they can renovate for condo’s to make more money. These are my thoughts, many people got away with murder.

  8. I lived on 1st and Willow ave. Woke up at 3:00am to a fierce fire in a 5 story building just 5 buildings from mine. People trapped, trying to jump out the windows. Some didn’t make it because of floors collapsing into the flames. Those memories are scared in my mind forever.

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