vacant mill
spontaneous combustion.
fire came a week after East Hampton...
East Hampton
Pre-Memorial Day 2012 in "Bell Town, USA"
July 4th come early
Propane tank (underground) to blame for this?  Christmas Day 2011 fire;  Stamford Government Center transformer fire;
wire mill slated for demolition - now what?
fire in the heat of the Summer of 2010.
Two tales of the same city - 21st century Dickens?  Future Urban Renewal Project...initiated by fire? Water necessary to fight fires...also prompt call for aid!  See U.S. Census 2000 Plainfield map
How about wild fires?

Town frets about dilapidated mill
Owners told to make repairs to vacant Stonington building
By Joe Wojtas Day Staff Writer
Article published Sep 23, 2012

Stonington - The town has ordered the owners of the long-vacant Connecticut Casting Mill on Stillman Avenue in Pawcatuck to repair holes in the fencing and building that people have been using to access the dilapidated building.

First Selectman Edward Haberek said Friday that graffiti has been painted inside, and there are makeshift skateboard ramps in the building.

He said the town is worried someone could get injured in the building or that a fire or criminal activity could occur there.

Haberek said the town told a representative of the owners, Investar Redevelopment LLC of Worcester, Mass., this week that it has to immediately make the repairs and secure the property. Investar officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

If the work is not done, Haberek said the town will send a demand letter to Investar.

Haberek said he has also asked police to step up patrols around the property, which lies next to the Pawcatuck River.

Investar also owes the town $12,425 in back taxes. While the town could put the property up for sale to recoup the taxes, Haberek said that is not something the town is likely to do because if no one bids on it, the town could end up owning a property that needs a costly environmental cleanup.

"We'd rather work with the owner to get it cleaned up," he said.

Haberek said Investar is interested in cleaning up and redeveloping the site but has been hampered by the economy. Haberek has made it a priority of his administration to force the owners of blighted buildings to make improvements and has cited owners under the town's blight ordinance.

In January 2011, the roof of the southern portion of the mill collapsed, creating an unsafe situation, according to the town. The town took Investar to court to force it to tear down that portion of the building after the company delayed doing the work. Last fall, the company agreed to repair the damage.

In 2005, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved Investar's plans to build 15 condominiums in the existing 18,000-square-foot, four-story brick mill at the north end of the site along the Pawcatuck River.

An additional 24 units would have been located in two new buildings.

Those plans never came to fruition, as Investar has been unable to line up money for environmental cleanup of the PCB, lead, mercury and other industrial contamination on the 1.2-acre site.

Vacant Colchester paper mill up in flames early Sunday
Middletown Press
Published: Sunday, July 08, 2012; Last Updated: Sunday, July 8, 2012 2:30 AM EDT

COLCHESTER – Officials were at the scene of a three-alarm fire at the old Norton Paper Mill on Route 149 early Sunday morning, Colchester First Selectman Gregg Schuster reported on Twitter.

The fire was fully engulfed and was still burning as of 2 a.m., Schuster reported.

"Going to be a while," he said.

The building has been vacant "for a very long time," reports Christine McNichols Foley, a Colchester resident.

The paper mill fire comes just a little over a month after the Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Co. bell factory in East Hampton went up in flames. The factory, which makes sleighbells, among other things, is still in operation and is getting state aid to rebuild.


Spontaneous combustion - without quick attention, proximity to water probably not enough to have saved it.

La Roue Elayne at Cobb’s Mill Inn: Alarm thwarts fire in basement
Weston FORUM
Written by Patricia Gay
Thursday, 14 June 2012 00:00

Although La Roue Elayne at Cobb's Mill Inn is the town's newest hot spot, things got a little too hot early Monday morning when a small fire started in the basement.

The Weston Volunteer Fire Department responded quickly to an alarm at 2:43 a.m. on Monday, June 11, and found a pile of rags on top of a dryer in the basement had caught on fire. The fire was quickly extinguished and did not spread. Smoke in the basement and lower level of the restaurant was blown away by fans and the restaurant reopened in the afternoon in time for a luncheon. It appeared the fire was caused from the spontaneous combustion of greasy rags that were lying on top of a clothes dryer. The dryer was not running at the time of the fire.

Weston Fire Chief John Pokorny, who is also the town's fire marshal, said the fire's cause is still under investigation; however, it appears it was accidental.  Mr. Pokorny said he has seen instances of spontaneous combustion, where a material ignites without the application of external heat or flame. He said fires caused by spontaneous combustion are not uncommon at places that use massage oil and towels, or linseed oil and rags.

"A fire can be caused from cloths that have oil on them, are heated, and then left in a clump," he said.


When the call came in from the restaurant's alarm company at 2:43 a.m., Mr. Pokorny was the first on the scene, arriving just six minutes later.  Domenic Cocchia, the general manager of La Roue Elayne, credited the alarm system and fast action by the fire department for preventing the fire from spreading.

"The alarm system saved the restaurant. The fire was handled quickly. It could have been bad, really bad," Mr. Cocchia said.

When Mr. Pokormy arrived on the scene, he said there was a burning odor in the main dining room and smoke in the kitchen. He determined the smoke and heat were coming from the basement. Smoke from rags on a clothes dryer had triggered a smoke detector on the ceiling, which, in turn, sent out an alarm to the restaurant's monitoring company.

A historic wooden building, Cobb's Mill Inn was built in the 1700s and was once a working mill. It became an inn and then a restaurant known for its fine dining, weddings and functions.  After falling into foreclosure, the restaurant was shuttered for the past two years, and was reopened just four weeks ago after extensive remodeling by new owners Drew Friedman and Elayne Cassara.  As part of the remodeling, the alarm system needed major updating to bring it to code, which Mr. Cocchia called "a good thing" because the new system "worked."

"There is a gas line close to the dryer, so it's good that the fire was extinguished quickly before it could spread. I give a lot of credit to the fire marshal and his mandates," Mr. Cocchia said.

"It's a heavy gas line and I think it would have been OK, but yes, when everything works it makes things easier," Mr. Pokorny responded.

Reward Offered In Somers Mill Arson

The Hartford Courant
By CHRISTINE DEMPSEY, cdempsey@courant.com
2:47 PM EDT, June 6, 2012


State troopers are asking for the public's help in finding out who set a weekend fire that destroyed a vacant textile mill.

The state police are offering a $2,500 reward for the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible, the agency stated in a press release Wednesday.  Anyone who knows anything that could be relevant is asked to call state police detectives at the Troop C barracks in Tolland, 860-896-3233. All calls will be kept confidential.

The Somersville Manufacturing Co. mill on Maple Street was devastated by the fire early Saturday. The four-story factory has been deemed a total loss.

The fire was ruled an arson on Monday.

At Rebuilt Bevin Bros. Factory, Memories, Magic And Hard Work
Hartford Courant
Dan Haar
7:02 AM EST, November 22, 2012

EAST HAMPTON— The pace is faster than fast as Joanne Fiondella bags and packs Salvation Army bells by the hundreds. She and the rest of the crew at the Bevin bell factory know these bells are needed this year, this week, now.

The red bells with the wooden handles ship out as they're done. A few hundred yards away are the remains of the old factory, where six generations of Bevins made bells from 1832 until last Memorial Day weekend, when a lightning strike burned the place to the ground. New place, but same old company — the Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Co. — and most of the same employees.

And they are thankful for what they say has been, in the end, an OK year.

"I think about the fire a lot," said Fiondella, with lean, muscular arms, braided gray-brown hair and deep-set eyes showing a few months of stress.

Things looked grim when Fiondella got a call the night of the fire from Matt Bevin, president of Bevin Bros. "I have some really bad news. The factory is on fire," he told her.

Not only did the fire throw her out of work, but just the Friday before, her landlord gave her 30 days notice to leave the house where she'd lived for 25 years, where she raised her children. He'd sold the house.

On a bright note, Bevin raised everyone's spirits when he vowed to rebuild the last bell factory in East Hampton, the town known as Belltown USA. Cards and emails poured in, senators came calling, workers hoisted a flag over the rubble and a small core of employees stayed on to start the long, hard slog of salvaging tools and setting up shop nearby.

But that didn't help 53-year-old Fiondella, at least not when she was moving a lifetime of possessions, while getting only $156 a week in unemployment benefits and looking for work.

"I went all over. A lot of people, when they find out you work for Bevin Bell, they don't want to hire you because they know you're going back," Fiondella said. "I missed the people. I missed the work. ... I just sat around and moped."

True to his word, Bevin brought Fiondella back full time at the start of October, in a hastily established factory with equipment cobbled together.

For the last six weeks, Fiondella and a handful of others have been back, working in the rhythmic din of a 150-ton press — ka-CHUNG, ka-CHUNG, ka-CHUNG — a comforting sound to anyone in factory life.

Across a haze of sodium vapor light, even closer to the towering, 44-year-old Minster press, Austin Gardner presides over his tool shop, nestled in a brick enclave with a manual lathe, a Bridgeport milling machine, a surface grinder, and a Black & Decker toaster oven for heating small parts. The surface grinder was forgotten in this long vacant factory — which Bevin Bros. leases, but owned decades ago — until Gardner figured out he could tear down a wall and move it across the floor.

For Gardner, 72, the fire meant more work, not less. He was down to 20 hours a week, a few years after suffering a stroke that forced him to learn anew how to walk, talk and eat. But a toolmaker after a factory fire is like a switch-hitting power hitter in the World Series. He figured he'd have a couple of weeks off, but no way. It's game time, full-time.

"That's life," the Colchester resident said. "When you bounce back, it's a good year."

The work of rebuilding a factory is different from the work of running a busy one, and both are happening at Bevin Bros. The company can't just fill orders, it has to restore the tools. Dozens of the dies that are used to make the bells — some customized to include customers' logos in the stamping — were saved in the fire. Without them, there would be no company left at all. But each die must be meticulously rebuilt with new surfaces, pins, springs and bushings.

Gardner confers with Bevin on a sticky problem. "It will probably cost $300 for the heat treating," he said.

"I'd rather spend $300 than $30,000 for a new die," Bevin replied.

It's a puzzle. Until a die is restored, a customer can't order bells from Bevin. And until the orders happen, Bevin said, "I don't have the work for people. They're coming back as work justifies it."

So far, Bevin has brought back 11 of 19 people, and PSI Plus, an affiliated metal cylinder container company, which Bevin owns with longtime Bevin employee Doug Dilla, has brought back its seven workers.

Some customers could wait; others could not.

The Salvation Army's three regional offices resisted moving their orders to Asia. "Their concern and my concern was to make sure they didn't have a reason to do so," Bevin said. So, those dies were among the first restored in the summer. Most of the 30,000 bells ordered for this year, in several different models, had been ready to ship at the time of the fire, and were destroyed — or stolen in the chaotic hours immediately afterward, Bevin said.

Bevin took over the business in 2008 from his Uncle Stanley, and turned it around financially. But it's not a full-time job for him. The former Army captain lives in Louisville, Ky., and owns firms in decking materials, chocolate, educational software and medical devices, among others.

Aside from running companies, Bevin, 45, and his wife adopted four children from Ethiopia in June, ages 2 to 10, adding to their five biological children, 7 through 14. "It will be the first Thanksgiving for all of them," he said.

He can't say how many times he's returned to East Hampton this year, usually staying with his 98-year-old grandmother in town. And he can't — or won't — add up the financial cost of rebuilding. "If I did I would get depressed," he said. Buying and installing three large, used presses alone cost upward of $200,000.

Some people wanted to donate money, so Bevin made commemorative boxed sets to give them, each with a brightly colored company timeline and a bell recovered from the ashes. But make no mistake. Bevin Bros. is not a charity case.

"If it cannot sustain itself as a for-profit business, it should not be in business," Bevin said. "I know there's a market for it. I know we can compete in it ... there are some people that would rather have a sleigh bell that they can't crush in their hands."

One of those customers is Poochie-Pets LLC, a Simsbury business that makes accessories for dogs, including PoochieBells dog doorbells on colored straps that dogs can ring. On Monday, Abdirahim Hussein, a 12-year employee, made Poochie's customized sleigh bells on a big stamping press.

Like Gardner and Dilla, Hussein, of East Hampton, worked to rebuild the company. "It was a hard time but right now we're good," said Hussein, 38.

Hussein understands hardship. He came to Connecticut in 1990 from Somalia, escaping a civil war that took the lives of his father and sister. He worked at the J.C. Penney Warehouse before joining Bevin Bros., and became a U.S. citizen two years ago.

All the sweeter: His wife had the couple's seventh child in June, a son, right after the fire.

Rejuvenation, rebirth, renewal. It's in the families of these loyal workers, it's in the cards from local third graders who visited the new plant, just like countless third-graders had visited the old plant in years past. It was in the firefighters who brought the Jaws of Life to unstick a burned die. It's in the email from the woman whose father took her to Bevin when he delivered a forklift 60 years ago. "I got a chance to see bells being made, and I've never forgotten it," she wrote.

Bevin calls it magical, "making memories." It is that, but it takes hard work that never ends. For Fiondella, it will help her get out of debt and find a place to live back in Colchester.

"It's getting there," Fiondella said. "It takes time to get back on your feet, you know."

Plans To Help East Hampton Bell Factory To Be Unveiled
Hartford Courant
Associated Press
7:39 AM EDT, July 13, 2012

EAST HAMPTONU.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal is scheduled to join the president of the Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co. to announce efforts to help the 200-year-old East Hampton bell company recover from a devastating fire in May.

Blumenthal and Matt Bevin, the sixth-generation president of the company, will announce the "Keep the Bells in Belltown" initiative during a news conference Friday by a waterfall overlooking the former 19th century bell factory.

Bevin said various companies from Connecticut and Canada have stepped forward to help Bevin Brothers, which was founded in 1832 and makes sleigh, hand, house, cow, sheep, door and ship's bells. Last month, the state provided a $100,000 matching grant.

Bevin said thousands of surviving sleigh bells are being individually packaged with a book about the company and will be sold.

State Gives $200,000 To Companies Ruined By Bell Factory Fire
The Hartford Courant
Mara Lee mlee@courant.com
1:17 PM EDT, June 20, 2012

HARTFORD — Bevin Brothers Manufacturing, a 180-year-old bell factory in East Hampton, and its neighbor, P.S.I. Plus, will each receive $100,000 in state funds to help them rebuild from the fire that destroyed their buildings on May 26.

"Connecticut has a proud history as the home of the Bevin Bell factory, and we are putting our economic development tools to work to assist Bevin Brothers and P.S.I. Plus in their effort to rebuild here in Connecticut," Governor Dannel P. Malloy said in announcing the grants. "We are fortunate that these two companies will persevere despite this terrible fire—there is a lot of work ahead, but the state is stepping up so their employees can get back on the job as soon as possible."

Bevin Brothers has 12 full-time and 3 part-time workers, and they will be going to work at 11 Watrous St. in East Hampton. The money will be used to buy machinery.

More than 30 companies once made bells in East Hampton, giving it the nickname 'Belltown.'

Bevin Brothers produced the first bell used on a bicycle, the chiming bells used on Good Humor ice cream trucks and makes the bells used by Salvation Army bell ringers. It also makes sleigh bells.

P.S.I., which makes specialty gas cylinders, will use the money to buy equipment and help underwrite renovations at the burned factory. It has seven full-time and two part-time employees.

Both companies are receiving the grants from Small Business Express, a $100 million pool of money borrowed by the state to distribute to Connecticut-based employers with fewer than 50 employees.

The legislature recently expanded the program to employers with up to 99 employees in the state, and companies with that level of employment that are headquartered elsewhere.

New meaning for "Memorial" in small town CT? 
But the Memorial Day Parade in East Hampton goes on, reminding us of disasters of the man-made variety.
"This is a tremendous loss for our community now and in the future."

Lightning Likely Caused Bevin Bros. Fire
The Hartford Courant
By DAVID OWENS, dowens@courant.com
9:33 AM EDT, May 29, 2012


Fire investigators suspect a lightning strike caused the fire that destroyed the Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co. bell factory Saturday night.  East Hampton Fire Marshal Rich Klotzbier said hours of investigation by him and the state fire marshal could not pinpoint an exact cause.  The determination "will be undetermined with a high probability of a lightning strike," Klotzbier said.

The fire was discovered at about 11:35 p.m. by a neighbor who was standing on his back deck. But Klotzbier said it is likely the fire was started hours earlier by a lightning strike from a powerful storm that moved through the area.  A lightning strike mapping program showed 292 lightning strikes within a five mile radius of the factory as the storm moved through, Klotzbier said.  FOX CT Chief Meteorologist Joe Furey said a storm moved through East Hampton between 4 and 5 p.m. Saturday that produced a lot of lightning.

"The core of that intense thunder storm cell went right over East Hampton between 4 and 5 with several hundred cloud to ground lightning strikes," Furey said.

Klotzbier said he was able to map the progression of the fire because he was among the first to arrive at the scene Saturday night. Determining a definitive cause, however, is not possible because of the damage.

"We would like to be able to say with 100 percent certainty that's what it was," he said.

He said investigators were able to pinpoint an area of the building where they think the fire began, then smoldered for hours until breaking through the roof. A 40-foot by 60-foot area of the building was heavily burning when firefighters arrived, and the fire quickly spread.  Investigators said there was no activity at the factory on Saturday, other than a maintenance man cutting grass, and he didn't go into the building, Klotzbier said. The site was also secured by fences and locked gates. Firefighters had to cut locks to get onto the factory grounds, he said.

The investigation into the fire is closed and the building has been turned over to its owner. The local building inspector has condemned the building, although he determined the walls were stable.  Klotzbier said findings by state and federal environmental authorities that there are no environmental concerns are consistent with his findings.

Bevans Brothers Manufacturing, one of the oldest continuously operating factorings in the state, produce a variety of bells. It was once one of many factories in East Hampton that produced bells. The industry earned East Hampton the nickname "Belltown,USA."

More than 300 firefighters from about 30 fire departments battled the blaze at 10 Bevin Road, East Hampton Fire Chief Paul Owen said Sunday.  Factory owner Matt Bevin was in Kentucky at the time of the fire, but flew back to assist officials by providing information about what was in the building.  If it is possible to rebuild the factory, Bevin said Sunday he would work to do so.

"It's easy to say 'we'll do this,' and 'we'll do that and we'll be back,' but there's a reason there's only one bell maker left," Bevin said. "It's hard to make bells in America."

Bevin said he is concerned primarily with doing right by his employees, whom he called the lifeblood of the factory.  There were 19 employees in the bell factory and seven more at P.S.I. Plus, a company that since 1991 has manufactured tubular compressed gas cylinders at the Bevin complex.

"I don't know if it's remotely cost effective to even conceive of the idea of being back, but if it's possible to make bells in bell town, we're going to keep making bells in bell town," Bevin said.

"Bevins have been making bells here for 180 years and I'm a Bevin and Bevins don't quit," he said.

The fire is going to be painful for those now out of work, and others in and near East Hampton, he said.  Bevin Brothers Manufacturing has been in business since 1832. The current factory was built about 1880, according to the East Hampton land records.

According to the company website, William Bevin learned the art of bell making while an indentured servant in Cairo, N.Y. There he worked for bell maker William Barton. Barton was the first bell manufacturer in East Hampton, opening a factory in 1808.

William Bevin and brothers Chauncey and Abner established the family business in 1832. A fourth brother, Philo, later joined the business.

More than 30 companies made bells at one time in East Hampton, according to the company website, but only Bevin Brothers remains. Two other bell companies, Gong Bell Manufacturing and East Hampton Bell, were also owned by the Bevin brothers.

The company said it produced the first bell used on a bicycle, the chiming bells used on Good Humor ice cream trucks and bells used by Salvation Army bell ringers. Sleigh bells were a huge part of the company's business which got a boost when it was mandated that otherwise silent sleighs be equipped with bells, according to the company website.

Fire Destroys Iconic East Hampton Bell Factory
The Hartford Courant
By HILLARY FEDERICO, hfederico@courant.com
10:26 PM EDT, May 27, 2012


A smoking skeleton is all that remains of the iconic Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co. factory after a devastating fire ripped through the building late Saturday night.

The fire prompted evacuations and warnings about hazardous materials, but by late Sunday morning residents who left their homes during the fire were allowed to return. Air testing by state and federal environmental officials determined there were no lingering air quality concerns.

The town's Memorial Day parade will go on as scheduled, officials said.

Bevin Brothers, one of the oldest continuously operated factories in Connecticut, was the last remnant of a once-thriving industry that earned East Hampton the nickname "Bell Town, USA." Known to manufacture more than 700,000 sleigh bells annually, the company's products have been featured in "It's A Wonderful Life" and its cowbells have been clanked at football games and ski races.

Bevin Brothers was the last company exclusively manufacturing bells in the United States.

"This is a tremendous loss for us, as well as the country," Susan Weintraub, the chairwoman of East Hampton's town council, said Sunday afternoon. "This is a tremendous loss for our community now and in the future."

More than 30 fire departments, including companies from East Hampton, Middletown, Wethersfield and Cromwell, were called to the fire at 10 Bevin Road about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, East Hampton Fire Chief Paul Owen said. More than 300 firefighters aided in the firefighting efforts.

About one-third of the building was consumed by fire when the first firefighters arrived, Owen said.

Firefighters were concerned about propane tanks inside and outside the factory and people who lived closest to the factory were evacuated from their homes beginning about 12:30 a.m. Sunday. Power was also cut to the areas. A shelter was set up at East Hampton High School and staffed by the American Red Cross.

Owen said Sunday afternoon that none of the propane tanks appeared to explode, although loud explosions could be heard during the fire. Investigators are working to determine the fire's cause as well as what caused the explosions.

Paul Shipman, spokesman for the Red Cross, said 25 people went to the shelter overnight. People were able to return to their homes about 11 a.m., Weintraub said.

A hazardous materials team from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was on scene for several hours taking air samples. Four remote monitors were installed in the area about 1 p.m., said Cyndy Chanaca, a DEEP spokeswoman.

"We are not seeing anything of concern," Chanaca said Sunday. "There is not a significant amount of hazardous material in the building to warrant a safety threat."

Factory owner Matt Bevin was in Kentucky at the time of the fire, but flew back to assist officials by providing information about what was in the building.

If it is possible to rebuild the factory, Bevin said he will work to do so.

"It's easy to say 'we'll do this,' and 'we'll do that and we'll be back,' but there's a reason there's only one bell maker left," Bevin said. "It's hard to make bells in America."

Bevin said he is concerned primarily with doing right by his employees, whom he called the lifeblood of the factory. "No one is getting rich making bells or working at a bell factory, but everybody was in it together," he said. "Good people."

There were 19 employees in the bell factory and seven more at P.S.I. Plus, a company that since 1991 has manufactured tubular compressed gas cylinders at the Bevin complex.

"I don't know if it's remotely cost effective to even conceive of the idea of being back, but if it's possible to make bells in bell town, we're going to keep making bells in bell town," Bevin said.

"Bevins have been making bells here for 180 years and I'm a Bevin and Bevins don't quit," he said.

The fire is going to be painful for those now out of work, and others in and near East Hampton, he said.

Bevin Brothers Manufacturing has been in business since 1832. The current factory was built about 1880, according to the East Hampton land records.

According to the company website, William Bevin learned the art of bell making while an indentured servant in Cairo, N.Y. There he worked for bell maker William Barton. Barton was the first bell manufacturer in East Hampton, opening a factory in 1808.

William Bevin and brothers Chauncey and Abner established the family business in 1832. A fourth brother, Philo, later joined the business.

More than 30 companies made bells at one time in East Hampton, according to the company website, but only Bevin Brothers remains. Two other bell companies, Gong Bell Manufacturing and East Hampton Bell, were also owned by the Bevin brothers.

The company said it produced the first bell used on a bicycle, the chiming bells used on Good Humor ice cream trucks and bells used by Salvation Army bell ringers. Sleigh bells were a huge part of the company's business which got a boost when it was mandated that otherwise silent sleighs be equipped with bells, according to the company website.

Fireworks, Ammunition Fuel Blaze In Easton

The Hartford Courant
10:17 AM EDT, May 19, 2012


Ammunition and bundles of fireworks fueled a blaze that destroyed a home on Judd Road, officials said.

Firefighters from several towns spent the night battling flames at 507 Judd Road.

Residents managed to escape before the home became engulfed by flames, authorities said. One person reported minor injures and was treated by medics at the scene.

Crews were called to the home at 6 p.m. Friday and firefighters from Monroe, Trumbull, Fairfield and Westport assisted. Authorities remained on scene Saturday morning.

Fire officials retrieved fireworks and ammunition from the debris.

State police are assisting with an investigation into the cause.

WILTON BULLETIN links to video
NOTE:  Video runs for more than a minute;  on YouTube taken be resident who escaped the blaze.

Wilton condo fire displaces 15, injures two firefighters
Norwalk HOUR
By CHASE WRIGHT Hour Staff Writer | Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2012 11:51 am

WILTON -- Two firefighters were injured Sunday afternoon while battling a massive fire that tore through the Wilton Crest condominium complex off Wolfpit Road.

Wilton Fire Chief Paul Milositz said 15 units in the complex were destroyed or heavily damaged in the blaze, which left at least a dozen families homeless.  One firefighter was transported to Norwalk Hospital after suffering minor injuries from falling debris; another was treated at the scene for heat exhaustion, Milositz said.  Upward of 60 firefighters from Wilton and neighboring towns were called to the scene at about 11:43 a.m., when the dispatch center received multiple 911 calls reporting a large fire at Wilton Crest condos.

Milositz said firefighters encountered heavy smoke and flames shooting out the roof of Unit 54, where the fire apparently originated. Firefighters worked to contain the blaze, which by then had spread to several nearby units, he said.

Wilton Crest resident Todd Mitchell was in his second-floor bedroom, working on the computer, when he heard the loud "bang" of splintering wood. Mitchell looked out the window and saw that flames had completely engulfed his apartment.  He immediately grabbed his 12-year-old son, Ryan, who was playing video games in his room, and the two fled out the front door barefoot, only to be stopped in their tracks by a wall of flames.

"We had to escape out the back because the front of the house was on fire," said Mitchell, who owns the apartment where the fire is said to have started. "Thank God we found a way out through the patio."

Mitchell stood outside his home in a pair of borrowed sneakers and watched as firefighters shot streams of water into the roof of his apartment.

"There goes everything I own," he said, adding that his cat, "Squiggles," failed to make it out in time.

Patricia Stack, who lives nearby in Unit 91, ran outside to help her neighbors after she saw smoke and falling ash blow by her window.

"People were running around everywhere," she said. "I tried to help in any way I could."

Wilton Crest residents Kelli and David Mills were on their way to Orem's Diner with their two children, Hannah and Scott, when the fire trucks came whizzing by.  As she and her family prepared to sit down for lunch, Kelli said she received a call from her alarm company alerting her that her nextdoor neighbor's house was on fire.

"They broke down our door and were fighting the fire from inside our house," she said. "I don't know how bad the damage is."

While her apartment was likely lost to the blaze, Mills said firefighters did manage to save the family's dog, "Shadow." There was no word, however, as to whether or not their three cats -- Cupcake, Snowflake and Peppermint -- made it out alive.  

"I think they're OK," said 7-year-old Scott Mills. "They're really good at hiding."

Firefighters were on the scene for several hours stamping out the remaining hot spots.  Fire Marshal David Kohn also responded to the condo complex to investigate.  Milositz said the cause of the blaze was still under investigation.


House 'Totally Gone' After Explosion In Stamford; Homeowner Injured
The Hartford Courant
Staff report
7:09 PM EDT, September 17, 2013

STAMFORD — A house on Webbs Hill Road is "totally gone" after an explosion, and the homeowner, who was outside at the time, was taken to a hospital, official said.

The house was leveled and an underground 500-gallon propane tank — which is being investigated as a possible cause of the explosion — continued burning for more than four hours after the explosion, said Ted Jankowski, Stamford's director of public safety.

"It's like going to hell," he said of the propane fire during a press conference Tuesday evening.

The fire in the tank was reduced to a controlled burn but could not be fully extinguished until all the propane burned off, Jankowski said. The house received a delivery of 280 gallons of propane about a month ago, he said.

The explosion at 305 Webbs Hill Road happened at about 2 p.m., and a next door house was damaged, said Police Chief Jonathan Fontneau. A woman in a neighboring home who called police thought the explosion was an earthquake, he said.

Officials had not determined what caused the blast as of Tuesday evening, but a "combustible gas" is suspected, Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia said.

Debris was strewn for hundreds of feet, Pavia said.

The homeowner was outside near a pool house when the home exploded, Jankowski said. He was treated and brought to Stamford hospital. Fontneau said that the homeowner had no visible injuries, but that he was still at the hospital Tuesday evening and had been speaking with investigators.

The area is considered a crime scene as the investigation continues, Pavia said. Officials said that the investigation will likely go on for days. It could be "some time" before the roads are opened, Jankowski said Tuesday evening.

The house was purchased in 2006 for $1.1 million by Guiseppe Cardillo, according to the Stamford assessor's office. It was assessed at nearly $657,000 and has six bedrooms and more than 6,000 square feet of living area.

Fire departments from the surrounding area, including New Canaan and Pound Ridge, N.Y., came to assist. The Stamford police and fire marshal, as well as the state fire marshal and an arson investigation team were investigating the scene on Tuesday.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

Firetrucks at Stamford Government Center, incident caused by
transformer fire in nearby underground vault - was the heat part of the problem?

Government Center closed to public after transformer fire
Staff report
Updated 09:27 a.m., Thursday, June 21, 2012

STAMFORD -- With only one elevator working, no air conditioning and little electricity for use, the Stamford Government Center will be closed to the public today, city officials said early Thursday.

City workers are checking in and are being reassigned this morning, a day after a transformer fire in a nearby underground vault forced the evacuation of the building and snarled traffic throughout downtown Wednesday afternoon.

A press release from Mayor Michael Pavia's office said any public meetings scheduled for Thursday will be cancelled and rescheduled.

Stamford Police Capt. Thomas Lombardo, the city's emergency management director, said the building has only minimal electricity this morning and a single elevator working. Just before 9 a.m. it was about 85 degrees without any air conditioning, he said.

According to the release, all Woman, Infant and Children programs along with all Social Services programs will be canceled. All emergency and essential personnel are at work and available as necessary. All other municipal public services and facilities are open and operating normally.

The Citizens Service Center is open and will be taking calls at 203-977-4140.

When firefighters first arrived shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday they found heavy smoke coming from a vault near the building. Firefighters had to wait for a crew from Connecticut Light and Power to shut off the electricity to the building so they could extinguish the flames.

The police department's mobile command truck was called to the scene and emergency medical service paramedics were handing out water to people waiting in the heat outside the building. A triage tent was also set up to treat anyone affected by the heat.

The high temperature recorded at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center was 96 degrees.

Stamford Christmas fire
Victorian under renovation in Shippan area above, burns down klilling 5.  Not foul play.  Are these construction ladders reaching the third floor?

Debris being cleared from Shippan house

John Nickerson, Staff Writer, CT POST
Updated 11:18 a.m., Wednesday, December 28, 2011

STAMFORD -- Smoldering embers swept out from a picturesque Christmas Eve fire are being blamed for the tragic Christmas Day fire that killed three children and their grandparents.

Stamford Chief Fire Marshal Barry Callahan said the initial findings of his office's investigation into the cause of the blaze determined that the ashes were placed in a mudroom or outdoor garbage enclosure in the rear of the house and ignited early Christmas morning, sending smoke and flames throughout the three-story Victorian mansion overlooking Long Island Sound.

Details of the investigation also revealed the family's attempts to get out of the burning house and the heroic effort the children's grandfather made to save at least one of the three girls who died.

In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Callahan said it appears that Michael Borcina, the contractor performing renovations on the home and staying overnight as a guest of Madonna Badger, cleaned out the fireplace as the two went to bed shortly after 3 a.m. and placed them in a bag in a newly constructed mudroom or just outside.

"The origin was determined to be on the first floor rear corner of the house in the immediate area of a mudroom and trash bin enclosure," he said.

Authorities say no criminal charges are anticipated in the case.

Firefighters were summoned to the 3,350 square-foot home at 2267 Shippan Ave., at 4:52 a.m. and immediately called for a second alarm as flames poured out of nearly all of the home's windows and doors.

Callahan said that the results of his investigation are preliminary and the investigation into the accidental fire that killed Badger's three daughters, Lily 10 and twins Sarah and Grace, 7, and parents Lomer and Pauline Johnson of Southbury, is continuing. Badger and Borcina managed to escape the blaze.

Callahan said the fire entered the house quickly and spread throughout the first floor and up through the staircases and areas open to the second floor.

"It appears that all occupants were awakened and proceeding to escape at the time of the fire," he said.

It is not known if there were any working fire alarms or smoke detectors in the 116-year-old home since it was undergoing extensive renovations and had not yet been fully approved by city inspectors.

Stamford Director of Operations Ernie Orgera said there was a fire detection system in the house that was ready to be hooked up to fire detectors, but it was not believed to have been activated.

"We don't believe there were any fire detection systems or smoke alarms activated in the house," Orgera said.

Callahan said that during his initial interview with Borcina and Badger, he was unable to determine if there were smoke detectors in the house. He later admitted that he did not broach the subject, just hours after the fire.

Callahan said that he was trying to schedule a follow-up interview with Badger and Borcina, who remains in stable condition at Stamford Hospital.

Technically, however, the occupants of the home should not have been living in the renovated part of the home which included all of the second floor besides the master bedroom until the final inspection had been made, Ogera said.

Acting Fire Chief Antonio Conte said that as the fire was sweeping through the home, Lomer Johnson tried to pull one of his three granddaughters to safety.

Conte said Johnson made a "valiant effort" to bring the girl out of a window in the rear of home, but Johnson, 71, a former safety chief at a Kentucky liquor company, was overwhelmed by the intense blaze and died along with his granddaughters and 69-year-old wife Pauline.

Johnson was able to stack some books by the window for his granddaughter to step on, but when he fell onto the roof face first where he was found later by firefighters, he perished.

"When he stepped through that window his life ended," Conte said. One of the girls was found on the stack of books.

One of the bodies of the two girls was found with her grandmother on a stairwell between the second and third floors. The other daughter was found in a second floor bedroom, Conte said.

Conte said when firefighters arrived six minutes after the 911 call, they found Badger, who bought the house a year ago for $1.7 million, stranded on scaffolding on the second floor of the house. Badger was reportedly trying to reach her daughters by climbing the scaffolding.

Badger, a prominent New York City advertising executive, directed firefighters to her daughters in the third-floor cupola. Fire Capt. Mark Shannon and other firefighters climbed the scaffolding and made their way into two rooms without finding anyone.

Shannon, who received second-degree burns on his face, and the firefighters tried again and were pushed back, Conte said.

"That much heat, even with their protective clothes, would not allow them to go further," Conte said.

Borcina told firefighters that he led two of the girls to the second floor, but the fire and heat drove them back into the home and he lost sight of them.

"You have to realize with the amount of heat and smoke how scared those children must have been and they just left him," Conte said.

Firefighters made two assaults to the second floor, but were driven back by heat and flames.

Once the fire marshal's technical investigation was complete on the house, it was torn down Monday morning. Since then a shrine of flowers, stuffed animals and hand-drawn cards from children has bloomed near the mailbox in front of the huge pile of rubble.

Conte said the structure was so dangerous it had to be pulled down.

"After 38 years on the job, you are never prepared for anything like this," Conte told reporters. "It's heartbreaking ... So, how can you be prepared for this? It is our job to do something. Yes, our job is to rescue people when they are in danger. You feel like when you don't make that rescue that you failed."

Stamford Officials: Ash From Fireplace Caused Fatal Blaze
Grandfather Tried To Save Girl; Mother Had To Be Restrained From Going Back into Burning Stamford Home

The Hartford Courant
Staff and wire reports
4:17 p.m. EST, December 27, 2011

Stamford fire officials said Tuesday that discarded ash from a fireplace appears to have caused the Christmas morning fire that killed three children and their grandparents.  Fire officials said they are unsure whether there were smoke detectors in the house...

Staff and wire reports
Hartford Courant
2:40 p.m. EST, December 27, 2011

...Reports are also emerging about the repeated efforts by Stamford firefighters to reach the children and their grandparents.

The president of Stamford's firefighters union said firefighters on Engine 4, the first pumper to arrive at the fire early Christmas morning, used a ladder to reach a roof, then climbed scaffolding to get into the burning home's third floor.

Badger "was outside … and let the guys know the kids were inside as well as her parents," said Brendan Keatley, the union president.

"They were told the kids were on the third floor," Keatley said. "They went up the scaffolding, broke out a window and entered into the third floor. They went in there and began searching for folks."

Firefighters did remove people from the building, but they had already succumbed, he said.

"They made a super human effort to get in there under difficult and adverse conditions," Keatley said, noting the captain who led the effort suffered second-degree burns to his face. He was one of four firefighters injured battling the blaze...

Conn. mayor: Fire that killed 5 not foul play
Updated 02:34 p.m., Tuesday, December 27, 2011

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Christmas Day fire that killed three children and their grandparents was a tragic accident related to a fireplace in the home, not the result of foul play, the mayor said Tuesday. 
Investigators were expected to reveal the cause of the fire later Tuesday, but Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia told The Associated Press that the cause was "fireplace-related." He could not provide more details.

"The preliminary information is it was just a tragic accident," he said, adding that foul play had been ruled out.

Neighbors said they were awakened by screams shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday and rushed outside to help but could do nothing as flames devoured the large Victorian home.  The home's owner, New York advertising executive Madonna Badger, and a male acquaintance escaped. Her parents, who were visiting for the holidays, and her three daughters — 7-year-old twins and a 10-year-old — were killed.

Pavia said Badger's father, Lomer Johnson, was found outside, on the roof of a small porch off a bedroom.

"It appears that he either was trying to get to his granddaughter from the outside or that he was leading his granddaughter out," he said.

Johnson had worked as a department store Santa Claus this season after a long career as a safety chief at Louisville, Ky.-based liquor maker Brown-Forman Corp., which he retired from several years ago.

"He spent his career trying to keep others safe," retired Brown-Forman executive Robert Holmes Jr. said Monday in a telephone interview. "And the irony is that he dies in a fire."

Flames were shooting out of the house when firefighters arrived shortly before 5 a.m., said Brendan Keatley, a Stamford firefighter who was at the scene and president of the local firefighters union.

"Two sides of the structure were walls of flame," Keatley said.

Firefighters used a fire truck ladder and construction scaffolding outside the house to climb into a third-floor window. Authorities were told by someone outside — Keatley wasn't sure who it was — that the children's bedrooms were on the third floor and that Badger's parents were inside.  Firefighters ran into extreme heat and poor visibility in a third-floor hallway. Four firefighters were injured as they searched for the victims, including a captain who suffered second-degree burns on his face, Keatley said.

Fighting the fire took a physical and an emotional toll, he said, and counselors were being made available to firefighters.

"We are devastated, just like everybody else is devastated," Keatley said Tuesday. "Today, we are trying to get our folks taken care of."

The other victims were Badger's mother, Pauline Johnson, and daughters, 10-year-old Lily and twins Grace and Sarah. The Johnsons lived in Southbury, about 45 miles northeast of Stamford.  The acquaintance who escaped, Michael Borcina, was a contractor who had done work on the home.

Pavia said police and firefighters were crying at the scene.

"Clearly it was an unbearable situation," he said.

The severely damaged Victorian house situated along the Connecticut shoreline was torn down Monday after the buildings department determined it was unsafe and ordered it razed, Stamford fire Chief Antonio Conte said.  Lomer Johnson worked as a Santa this year at Saks Fifth Avenue's flagship store in Manhattan, a store spokeswoman said.

Holmes, who worked with Johnson for more than a decade at Brown-Forman, remembered his co-worker as a big man with white hair and a commanding presence.

"He was a man of not a lot of words, but when Lomer spoke or gave his opinion, it was always well thought-out," Holmes said.

During his tenure with Brown-Forman, whose many brands include Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey and Southern Comfort, Johnson was responsible for security, safety and helping plan fire drills, Holmes said.

Badger, an ad executive in the fashion industry, is the founder of New York-based Badger & Winters Group. She was treated at a hospital and was discharged by Sunday evening, a hospital supervisor said. Her whereabouts were unknown.  A person answering the phone Tuesday at the Badger & Winters Group said it had no statement or comment.

Borcina was listed in fair condition Tuesday at Stamford Hospital, meaning his vital signs were normal but he may be uncomfortable. He declined to comment through a hospital spokeswoman.

Borcina, 52, of New York City, is the owner of Tiberias Construction Inc., which renovates expensive homes and businesses. The company's projects have included a Donna Karan store and artist Alex Beard's studio, both in New York City, and the White House Christmas wishing tree, according to the construction firm's website.

Borcina and Badger are friends on Facebook, and he said on his Facebook page that he enjoys skydiving and scuba diving.

Property records show Badger bought the five-bedroom, waterfront home for $1.7 million last year. The house was situated in Shippan Point, a wealthy neighborhood that juts into Long Island Sound.

The lot where the house stood was covered with charred debris and cordoned off by police with tape on Monday. Passers-by left floral bouquets, stuffed animals and candles.

Badger previously spent time on Shelter Island, a small, exclusive community at the eastern end of Long Island, N.Y. Town Supervisor James Dougherty said Tuesday that Madonna Badger served a few years ago on the town's deer and tick committee, which oversees the town's program to maintain healthy deer while eliminating tick-borne diseases.

Stamford Mayor: Fatal Fire Was 'Fireplace-Related'
Grandfather Tried To Save Girl; Mother Had To Be Restrained From Going Back into Burning Stamford Home

The Hartford Courant
11:26 AM EST, December 27, 2011

Foul play has been ruled out in the fire that killed three children and their grandparents Christmas morning in Stamford.

Stamford's mayor said Tuesday that the fire was "fireplace-related." Mayor Michael Pavia and others are expected to release more information about the fire at a press conference later Tuesday.

Tales of selfless heroism are starting to emerge from the fire that shocked the community of Shippan Point in Stamford.  Lomer Johnson, the grandfather who died in the Christmas Day house fire in Stamford along with his three granddaughters and wife, was trying to reach one of the girls when he was overcome, Stamford's fire chief said Tuesday.  Johnson's body was found on a roof outside one of the girl's bedroom windows. She was found on the other side of the window, Fire Chief Antonio Conte said.

It looked like Lomer was trying to get into the bedroom, Conte said. He was within arm's reach of one of his granddaughters.  Conte also said the girl's mother, Madonna Badger, had to be restrained. She survived the fire along with a male companion, but tried to go back into the burning house.  Reports are also emerging about the repeated efforts by Stamford firefighters to reach the children and their grandparents.

The president of Stamford's firefighters union said firefighters on Engine 4, the first pumper to arrive at the fire early Christmas morning, used a ladder to reach a roof, then climbed scaffolding to get into the burning home's third floor.  Badger "was outside … and let the guys know the kids were inside as well as her parents," said Brendan Keatley, the union president.

"They were told the kids were on the third floor," Keatley said. "They went up the scaffolding, broke out a window and entered into the third floor. They went in there and began searching for folks."

Firefighters did remove people from the building, but they had already succumbed, he said.

"They made a super human effort to get in there under difficult and adverse conditions," Keatley said, noting the captain who led the effort suffered second-degree burns to his face. He was one of four firefighters injured battling the blaze.

Counseling has been made available to firefighters.  The heavily damaged Victorian house in Stamford's tony Shippan Point was razed on Monday after city officials deemed it a hazard. Stamford's building department determined that the $1.72 million house was unsafe and ordered it razed, Conte said.

Badger, 47, who bought the large Victorian house last year, and the male companion were the only people to escape the blaze early Christmas morning.  Stamford police Sgt. Paul Guzda said Badger's three daughters — Lily, 10, and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah — died. He said her parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson of Southbury, who were visiting for the holiday, also died.

A spokeswoman for Saks Fifth Avenue confirmed in a statement that Badger's father had worked as a Santa this year at its flagship store in Manhattan.

"He was a really nice guy, laughing, joking," a Saks security guard told the New York Daily News Monday. "We joked with him, 'Hey Santa, don't forget us.'"

Johnson worked at Saks on Christmas Eve.

"That's all he ever wanted to be," a relative told the New York Times of Johnson's job working as Santa Claus. "He stopped shaving the day he retired."

Before he retired several years ago, Johnson was the safety chief at Brown-Forman Corp., a liquor maker based in Louisville, Ky. One of his responsibilities included planning fire drills.

"He spent his career trying to keep others safe," retired Brown-Forman executive Robert Holmes Jr. said Monday in a telephone interview. "And the irony is that he dies in a fire."

Johnson and wife, Pauline, would have celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary Monday.

Guzda said the male acquaintance was a contractor who was doing work on the home. The Stamford Advocate reported that the contractor is Michael Borcina, who was taken to Stamford Hospital and remained in stable condition as of Monday afternoon.

Badger was treated and released at Stamford Hospital.  Badger, an ad executive in the fashion industry, is the founder of Badger & Winters Group.  Neighbor Charles Mangano said he saw rescuers walking Badger and the man away from the house toward an ambulance.

"I heard her say 'My whole life is in there,' as she walked out," Mangano said. "They were both obviously in a state of shock."

Neighbors in the Shippan Point neighborhood said they were awakened by screaming and ran outside to see fire consuming the house.  Stamford Fire Chief Antonio Conte said firefighters were called at 4:52 a.m. and arrived to find the house engulfed in flames. The first-arriving firefighters were able to get Badger and Borcina out of the house, but despite several efforts could not reach the five people trapped inside.

"There was so much flame and heat it drove the firefighters back," Conte said. "They tried several times. We knew all five were in there. We just couldn't get to them."

Conte became emotional as he talked about the fire and its heavy toll.

"I've been on this job 38 years," he said. "Not an easy day."

The house was razed around 8 a.m. Monday. The Stamford fire marshal's office has not released the cause of the fire.  Badger bought the three-story, 3,300-square-foot, five-bedroom house that overlooks Long Island Sound in December 2010 for $1.72 million. The house had been undergoing extensive renovations, neighbors said.  The lot where the house once stood was covered with charred debris and cordoned off by police with tape on Monday. Passersby left bouquets, stuffed animals and candles nearby.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a former mayor of Stamford, offered his condolences to Badger and her family in a statement and said her loss "defies explanation."

The fire was Stamford's deadliest since a 1987 blaze that also killed five people, Conte said.

Badger gained fame for Calvin Klein underwear and Obsession perfume ads featuring Kate Moss. She founded Badger & Winters Group at age 30.

Connecticut fire victim had career as safety chief
New LondonDAY
Associated Press
Article published Dec 27, 2011

Hartford (AP) — A man who died with his wife and three grandchildren in a house fire in Connecticut on Christmas had a long career as a safety chief at a liquor company in Kentucky and worked as a department store Santa Claus this season.

A day after fire swept through his daughter's upscale house in Stamford, Lomer Johnson was remembered fondly as a stickler for safety by a former boss at Louisville, Ky.-based liquor maker Brown-Forman Corp., where Johnson retired from his job as safety and security director several years ago.

"He spent his career trying to keep others safe," retired Brown-Forman executive Robert Holmes Jr. said Monday in a telephone interview. "And the irony is that he dies in a fire."

Neighbors said they were awakened by screams shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday and rushed outside to help but could do nothing as flames devoured the large Victorian home.

New York advertising executive Madonna Badger and a male acquaintance were able to escape the blaze, but her parents, who were visiting for the holidays, and her daughters were killed.  The Hartford Courant newspaper identified the remaining victims as Badger's mother, Pauline Johnson, and daughters, 10-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah. The Johnsons lived in Southbury, about 45 miles northeast of Stamford.

The acquaintance was a contractor working on the home, police said. He was identified by the Stamford Advocate newspaper as Michael Borcina.

The severely damaged $1.7 million Victorian house situated along the Connecticut shoreline was torn down Monday after the buildings department determined it was unsafe and ordered it razed, local fire Chief Antonio Conte said.

Conte had no details on the investigation, and no information about the cause of the fire was released.  He told WFSB-TV that bodies were found on the second and third floors and on the stairway between the floors.

Firefighters knew there were people trapped in the home but could not get to them because the flames were too large and the heat too intense, officials have said.  Bill Avalos, a retired captain at the Stamford Fire Department, said the department is now arranging crisis intervention for the firefighters who battled the blaze.

"We have a younger department. We want them to stay healthy," he said. "They did everything they could do to have a better outcome."

Johnson most recently worked as a Santa this year at the flagship store of Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, a store spokeswoman said.

"Mr. Johnson was Saks Fifth Avenue's beloved Santa, and we are heartbroken about this terrible tragedy," spokeswoman Julia Bently said in a statement.

Holmes, who worked with Johnson for more than a decade at Brown-Forman, remembered his co-worker as a big man with white hair and a commanding presence.

"He was a man of not a lot of words, but when Lomer spoke or gave his opinion, it was always well thought out," Holmes said.

He said he was a bit surprised that the longtime security chief had become a department store Santa but added, "I could see Lomer doing something like that because Lomer had a passion for people."

During Johnson's long career with Brown-Forman, whose many brands include Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey and Southern Comfort, he was responsible for security and safety at the company's headquarters and production plants. His responsibilities included helping plan fire drills, Holmes said.

"He spent his life as a safety professional making sure our facilities were safe from fire," Holmes said. "And in the event there was a fire, that people knew what to do in terms of getting out of the buildings."

Badger, an ad executive in the fashion industry, is the founder of New York-based Badger & Winters Group. She was treated at a hospital and was discharged by Sunday evening, a hospital supervisor said. Her whereabouts Monday were unknown.

Borcina was hospitalized Tuesday in stable condition, a nursing supervisor said.

Property records show Badger bought the five-bedroom, waterfront home for $1.7 million last year. The house was situated in Shippan Point, a wealthy neighborhood that juts into Long Island Sound.  The lot where the house stood was covered with charred debris and cordoned off by police with tape on Monday. Passers-by left floral bouquets, stuffed animals and candles.

Neighbor Tim Abbazia, who did not know the victims, said the fire occurred in a neighborhood where century-old homes are common and that it would make everyone assess fire safety. He said it could not have been any more tragic.

"Regardless of which day it happened, I don't think it could be any worse than it is," he said.

The fire was Stamford's deadliest since a 1987 blaze that also killed five people, Conte said.

Courage of blaze kids’ ‘Grandfather Christmas’
Last Updated: 9:22 AM, December 27, 2011
Posted: 1:16 AM, December 27, 2011

He was Saks Fifth Avenue’s department-store Santa Claus, hero to throngs of children. And he died on Christmas morning, on a housetop, inches away from the young granddaughter he could not save.

The already unbearably tragic Connecticut story of five family members who perished in a predawn Christmas fire has grown still more heartbreaking with details of the futile heroism of the oldest victim, Lomer Johnson, of Southbury, Conn. — a silver-bearded retired liquor executive who’d worked his dream job as Saks’ jolly St. Nick only the night before.

“He had the little girl with him,” Stamford Fire Chief Antonio Conte told reporters yesterday, describing two bodies found covered in fire debris on either side of an open third-story window.

Johnson, 71, was outside, face down on a small, jutting roof. The child was just inside the window.

“I think he had his granddaughter, and he tried to get her out,” the chief said.

“He went out the window first. She was right there, and he succumbed right on the outside, and she died on the inside.

“She was right next to him.”

Johnson and his wife, Pauline, were staying in the turreted, under-renovation home visiting their daughter, former Calvin Klein art director Madonna Badger, and Badger’s three daughters, 10-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Grace.

The condition of all three girls’ bodies left officials at a loss to immediately say which one Johnson had perished trying to save.

The other two girls were found on the second floor, one floor down from all their bedrooms, the fire chief told reporters.

“I guess the thing that bothers you the most is, if you look at our gear and you see what they wear, and how protected they are, and you think about these kids going through that house, trying to get out with pajamas on, in that intense heat, you know they had to suffer,” Conte said.

“They didn’t just go from the smoke.”

Pauline, the grandmother, was found in a staircase hall between the second and third floors.

Of the seven in the house, only Badger, a founding partner at the top-tier branding firm Badger & Winters, and her companion, contractor Michael Borcina, survived the 5 a.m. blaze.

Badger, in the early 1990s, became a top fashion marketer with her spicy Marky Mark underwear ads and sultry Kate Moss Obsession ads for Calvin Klein.

Borcina, who was doing renovation work on the $1.7 million Long Island Sound-view Victorian, remains in stable condition at a local hospital.  Firefighters told the chief that Borcina was trying desperately to re-enter the house when they arrived.

Badger was rescued from the roof as she, too, struggled past unbearable flames, heat and smoke to break a bedroom window. She was taken from the scene sobbing, “My whole life is in there.”

She was treated and released into the care of friends, according to one family acquaintance.

Badger had moved to the mansion with her girls from Manhattan at Thanksgiving 2010.  She is estranged from her husband, the girls’ father, Matthew Badger, who still lives in lower Manhattan and who was taken to Stamford by local cops yesterday afternoon.  The mansion’s charred remains — deemed a safety hazard — were razed by the city yesterday at the conclusion of an on-site investigation and the removal of the bodies.

Autopsies would be performed today at the earliest, said an official at the state Medical Examiner’s Office.

Stamford officials are expected to reveal the cause of the fire and other details — including whether the family had working smoke detectors or whether the ongoing renovations somehow abetted the flames — at a press conference today. 

But in yet another horrific twist, it may turn out that the fatal blaze had been sparked by improperly disposed-of fireplace ashes from the family’s Christmas Eve yule log the night before, a police source told The Post.  Officials believe that the ashes may still have been smoldering when they were left outside the 100-year-old home and that gusts of wind may have blown them against the side of the building, said the source, who is familiar with the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Someone dumped the ashes outside without making sure they were fully put out,” the source said.

“Then the wind picked them up and blew them onto the house.”

Some 70 firefighters needed counseling after working the blaze, their chief told reporters.  The tragedy has cast a long shadow into Manhattan, where Badger had raised her girls and sent the twins to PS 3 and the elder girl to private school before moving.  At Saks and other locations where Johnson played Santa, shocked friends shared fond memories.

“He was a great guy, always joking,” an eighth-floor Saks security guard told The Post.

Johnson had written in an online entertainment booking Web site hawking his availability at $100 to $150 an hour.

“I am now a Santa because my oldest granddaughter asked me to be a pretend Santa Claus,” Johnson wrote.

“I have enjoyed it more than any job I’ve ever had.”

Johnson had long worked as a safety director for the Brown-Forman Corp. in Kentucky, the distillers of Jack Daniel’s.

“He was a magnificent Santa,” who didn’t mind tots tugging at his beard, said Magdalene Shuster, a neighbor of the Johnsons’.

“Pauline said he was having a ball” playing Santa — not only at Saks, but at other jobs, including a daylong stint this season at the United Nations, Shuster added.

He and his wife were to celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary the day after the fire.  As for the girls, they were “just incredibly sweet and really magical,” said Sam Badger, a nephew of their father.

“Lily was a little more quiet, a little more reserved than her sisters,” he remembered.

“The twins just kind of seemed to bounce off each other, I suppose. They just seemed to be like one person, almost,” he said.

“It’s really so sad to see them all suffer this fate. This is the most tragic thing.”

Retired Stamford Fire Capt. Bill Avalos, who came to the scene, would not say whether the family had smoke detectors.  But the family slept through their very brief opportunity to escape the fast-moving flames, Avalos said.

“The fire was too advanced for them to get out. There was just too much fire,” he said.

“There was a wall of flame. There were guys that entered into that building who tried to go inside and shouldn’t have even tried,’’ he said.

“They made several attempts to make it into the building to get the people. They were able to get the female off of the roof there. They were able to get two people out of the building and they were lucky to do that,” he said.

“She was instructing where she thought the children would be and the firefighters made an attempt and were pushed back by the heavy flames.’’

In Fire’s Rubble, Signs of Grandfather’s Last Heroic Act
December 26, 2011

After a career dedicated to keeping others safe, Lomer Johnson was happy to indulge another passion in retirement: dressing up as a department store Santa, heeding the wishes of children, even if he could not always fulfill them.

Early on Christmas morning, Mr. Johnson and his wife were killed in a fire that consumed the home in Stamford, Conn., owned by their daughter, Madonna Badger, an advertising executive. Ms. Badger’s three young daughters also were killed, the police said.

Ms. Badger and a family friend escaped the blaze; on Monday, it became clear that Mr. Johnson tried to help at least one of his grandchildren do the same.

The Stamford fire chief, Antonio J. Conte, said Mr. Johnson’s body was found on a portion of the roof that was under construction; he was just outside the window of a back bedroom. Inside the room was one of the children.

“He must have been leading her out or trying to take her out,” Chief Conte said, “but he never made it out.”

Ms. Badger escaped the blaze on Shippan Avenue along with Michael Borcina, a contractor who was described by the police as a family friend. The children were Lily, 9, and Grace and Sarah, 7-year-old twins.

The home, which Ms. Badger bought about a year ago for $1.725 million and had been painstakingly renovating, was demolished on Monday. The home’s mailbox, which was undamaged, was surrounded by bouquets of flowers and stuffed animals.

“It’s just a big hole, just rubble,” said Tina Williams, who lives on the same street as Ms. Badger. “That poor woman is going to lose her mind.”

Neighbors at the scene described flames shooting from the windows of the three-story, 19th-century house overlooking Long Island Sound around 5 a.m. on Sunday, and said they heard Ms. Badger’s and Mr. Borcina’s screams as they fled into the street. Firefighters arrived quickly, but were unable to reach Mr. Johnson, his wife, Pauline, and the girls, who were trapped on the upper floors after parts of the house began to collapse, according to the Stamford Fire Department.

The mayor of Stamford, Michael Pavia, said on Monday that the fire was believed to be accidental, but that the precise cause had not been determined. It remained unclear whether the house had smoke detectors.

Responding to reports that embers from a fireplace may have sparked the blaze, Chief Conte said the city fire marshal’s office had not completed its investigation or revealed the cause of the fire to him.

“I heard it was a Christmas tree, I heard a million things,” Chief Conte said. “According to the fire marshal, this investigation could go on for six months. They have five fatalities; they have to do everything the right way.”

A message left at the home of the chief fire marshal, Barry Callahan, was not returned.

Ms. Badger was treated and released from Stamford Hospital on Sunday, while Mr. Borcina was at the same hospital on Monday in stable condition, said Elaine Braccia, a nursing supervisor. Mr. Borcina owns Tiberias Construction, a Manhattan company that specializes in high-end renovations, according to its Web site. Fitz Gitler, whose wife Cyndi Shattuck, a photographer, worked briefly as an office manager at Tiberias, said that Mr. Borcina had undergone brain surgery to remove a tumor several years ago.

Lomer Johnson, 71, a former safety director for the Brown-Forman Corporation, had long aspired to be a professional Santa Claus, said a family member who did not want to be identified. He cultivated a long white beard after he stopped shaving on the day he retired in August 2000. He advertised his services through a Web site, gigmasters.com, where he went by “Happy Santa.”

On the site, there are pictures of him on visits to nursing homes and with his granddaughters. “I have enjoyed it more than any job I’ve ever had,” Mr. Johnson wrote in the online advertisement. “If you want to talk about a good time, try listening to and talking with kids at Christmas.”

The Johnsons, who met in Canada while Mr. Johnson served in the United States Air Force, lived most of their lives in Louisville, Ky., before moving to the New York area to be closer to their granddaughters, the family member said. Mrs. Johnson was an electrical contractor, and had been an owner of John Waters Inc., a heating and cooling company in Louisville.

At their house in Heritage Village, an over-55 community in Southbury, Conn., about an hour’s drive from their daughter’s home, the entrance was decorated with a wreath and miniature trees festooned with red bows.

On the front door, a neighbor had taped a note, which was later removed. “Attention Bunny Sitter — Please come to my unit. Urgent I speak with you,” it said in part. “P.S. There has been a tragedy.”

Ms. Badger, 47, had moved her family from an apartment in Manhattan to be closer to a school for her daughter Lily, who had special educational needs, according to the family member.

In 1994, Ms. Badger founded an advertising company, now called Badger & Winters Group. She rose to prominence for her work on a Calvin Klein ad campaign in the early 1990s that featured Mark Wahlberg. She had begun divorce proceedings with her husband, Matthew, who lives in Manhattan, but they had an amicable relationship, another relative said. Ms. Badger declined to comment when reached on Sunday in her hospital room. Calls to Mr. Badger’s cellphone went unanswered.

The day before Mr. Johnson died, he was living his lifelong dream: he had been hired to play Santa on the ninth floor of the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan. While playing Santa on Christmas Eve, Mr. Johnson remained in character, even while eating lunch in the cafeteria in his red suit, said Christine Dattolo, a skin care saleswoman. “He was Santa,” Ms. Dattolo said. “He was just amazing.”

Throughout the day, Mrs. Johnson updated the family on the colorful scene unfolding around her husband at Saks, the family member said. At one point she called to report that her husband was “inside doing his last gig,” the family member said. “She meant for the season. She had no idea.”

Elizabeth A. Harris contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 27, 2011

A previous version of this article misattributed information about Michael Borcina’s brain surgery several years ago to Cyndi Shattuck.

Fire destroys Housatonic Wire in Seymour
Michael P. Mayko, Staff Writer
Published: 11:13 p.m., Saturday, September 11, 2010

SEYMOUR -- A raging fire raced through the vacant Housatonic Wire factory complex on River Street Saturday afternoon, consuming years of oil-soaked wood, spitting the burning onto the nearby cemetery and residential yards.

"We're in for a long evening," Seymour Fire Commissioner Gene Atkas said just before 7 p.m. as the building still smoldered.

Black mushroom cloud-like smoke seen from as far away as Fairfield mapped a route from Interstate 95 to Route 8 to the roaring inferno, which ravaged the vacant building proposed as the forefront in a $20 million development featuring a boutique hotel, restaurants, retail shops and residential apartments.

Alex Budzinski, who owns the building and founded the company with his father, said Saturday night "it most probably is a total loss."

As to what that means to the proposed development, he could not say.

"That's going to have to be discussed with the buyer and attorneys. I'm confident the sale will go through," he said.

Hundreds of spectators lined River and Bank streets watching firemen, fearing a building collapse, fight the blaze from aerial ladders high above it. They poured thousands of gallons of water down onto the red hot flames shooting at them from the ripped open roof and smashed second floor windows.  Atkas advised anyone who saw debris or burning embers from the building land in their yard to immediately call Seymour Police.

"The material could be hazardous," he said.

It was hazardous to some trees and grass in the adjacent Trinity Cemetery. Beacon Falls firefighters were moved into the cemetery. From there they shot water onto the burning building as well as sprayed it onto smoldering cemetery spots.  Both the state Department of Environmental Protection and the state Fire Marshal's office responded to the Seymour fire.

"We're not sure how it started," Atkas said. "We haven't been able to get inside because of the danger of a structure collapse."

Atkas said workmen were inside the building earlier Saturday, removing material in preparation for its demolition. That demolition now will come earlier than expected.

"It's a total loss," said John Machowski, an Ansonia firefighter with Hilltop Hose exhausted from fighting the stubborn blaze, fanned by wind coming off the nearby Housatonic River. Machowski was just one of dozens of volunteers from Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Oxford and Woodbridge who joined Seymour in extinguishing the fire. Shelton crews were kept on standby.

By 6 p.m. they had the fire under control without injuries. However, an EMS station was set up near the Bank Street intersection where tired firefighters could rest, rehydrate and receive medical checks.  Although firefighters couldn't save the wire factory, they did keep the fire off of another Seymour landmark, Carolyn Schumacher's Weenie Wagon. Schumacher specializes in hot dogs which she sells from a camper parked in front of Housatonic Wire.

"Thank you," she yelled to Machowski, one of her customers. "Lunch is on me Monday."

Schumacher was outside the camper cleaning up when Don Schilling, a customer coming home from an exhibition of World War II bombers at Oxford Airport, saw the blaze.

"I saw smoke coming from the second floor," Schilling said. " I passed Carolyn and then turned around and told her the buildings on fire. I called 9-1-1."

"That's when I saw the blaze," Schumacher said. "I called the owner to tell him, grabbed my propane tanks, threw them into my truck and got out of there. Within two minutes the whole top floor was on fire."

Housatonic Wire began in Shelton before moving to the Seymour site in 1978.  The company manufactured wire in several different gauges, compounds and specialities for nearly 40 years before closing it in 2008. Budzinski sold the business to Taconic Wire of North Branford.  Earlier this year, Amity Construction and Design, Inc. of Old Lyme entered into a contract to buy both the 4.5 acre property, which includes two waterfalls, from Budzinski and the former Seymour Lumber acre-long parcel from Thomas Tkacz Sr.

Their plans called for a 50-room boutique hotel, 150,000 square feet comprising restaurants, retail space and 50 residential units in plans being developed by Civil 1 Engineers of Woodbury and Shook Kelley Architects of Charlotte, N.C.  In connection with the proposal, Amity Construction received a $330,000 loan through the Valley Council of Governments to pay for site assessment and remediation of the property.

Late summer fire in Bridgeport - more here.

What role did the heat and humidity play?  How about electrical fire possibility?  Beautiful 3rd floor fenestration lost.
INDUSTRIAL FIRE:  Is regional response to economic development next?

Demolition of Remington site ordered
Keila Torres, CT POST
Published: 11:32 p.m., Thursday, September 9, 2010

BRIDGEPORT -- The stubborn fire that struck the former Remington factory on Barnum Avenue has finally been extinguished, but not before snuffing out the life of the abandoned factory.

Due to the intensity and duration of the 24th fire at the site since January 2003, the city's Condemnation Board on Tuesday voted to condemn the property and ordered the owner, RemGrit Realty Inc., to begin demolition within 48 hours.

"The entire campus is a menace to public safety," said Fire Chief Brian Rooney, a member of the board. "Our best recourse is to get the buildings torn down."

If Remgrit principal Sal DiNardo, who was represented at the meeting by his attorney Charles Willinger, does not begin demolition within the time allotted by the board, the city would take over the action.

"The city bonded for $2.5 million in demolition" in the capital plan approved this spring, said Chief of Staff Adam Wood. "We would like to be able to use those funds throughout the city and not just on RemGrit, but this really is a public safety issue."

The city hopes to take down every building on the site, except for the shot tower that still contains live utilities and the environmentally hazardous blacksmith shop.

Because the city's foreclosure action against the property was stalled by DiNardo's bankruptcy filing, the city would have to appeal to the federal bankruptcy court to recoup the demolition cost.

The city is also trying to estimate how much money could be recouped by selling steel, copper and other metals on the site, Wood said.

The city's legal staff is now looking into whether to put the demolition out to a formal, yet expedited, bidding process or continue using the services of Connecticut Tank Removal, the on-site contractor hired by the state Department of Environmental Protection to raze the building that housed the stubborn blaze for more than a week.

"The RemGrit site has been a blight on the city for too long," said Mayor Bill Finch. "I am focusing every available city resource to demolish these buildings to safeguard our residents and our firefighters from any further hazards from that site."

Last week, the city's police, fire, health, economic development, building and anti-blight officials toured the site with officials from the state DEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to Donald Eversley, director of the Office of Planning and Economic Development, the group determined that the structural damage at the site, the threat of another fire, the hazardous waste and evidence of criminal activity on site posed "imminent and continuing" safety hazards to the public.

After another Remington fire, what's next?
Michael P. Mayko, Staff Writer
Published: 08:22 p.m., Saturday, August 28, 2010

BRIDGEPORT -- Fire roared through four floors of two vacant buildings at the former Remington Arms plant Saturday morning, creating fear that sections of the damaged structure could collapse endangering firefighters battling the stubborn blaze and spectators creeping closer to watch.  At one point, police pushed back nearly three dozen spectators stationed at the intersection of Maple and Helen streets.

Wooden horses blocked off several streets surrounding what is now known as the RemGrit plant as firefighters from every city department battled the blaze for nearly two hours before bringing in under control.  By late afternoon, a wrecking ball began demolishing the northernmost building near Helen Street upon the recommendation of the state Department of Environmental Protection.  But first police canvassed the area giving nearby residents three options: remain inside with windows and doors closed and any outside ventilation systems turned off, seek shelter elsewhere or move to an emergency shelter set up at Waltersville/Barnum school.

"The concern was contaminants like asbestos might be released into the air," said Scott Appleby, the city's director of emergency management and homeland security.

He said residents cooperated, no one sought shelter in the school and the fire department sprayed a continual stream of water on the emerging dustball.  Still, the intensity of this latest fire, combined with the weakened structure of previous fires throughout the complex, brought calls from city and community leaders for demolition before someone is seriously hurt.  Lingering fresh in everyone's minds are last month's deaths of Lt. Steven Velasquez and Firefighter Michel Baik while battling a house fire on Elmwood Avenue.

"That complex needs to come down," said Ted Meekins, a retired Bridgeport police sergeant and chairman of the East End Community Council. "The city is putting its firefighters at risk every time they are called there. What are we waiting for?"

Councilman Robert P. Curwen Sr. who followed the smoke to Saturday's blaze, said he approached a battalion chief and told him "whatever you do, do not take any chances."

While the cause of the blaze is still under investigation, Curwen suspects it was caused by vandals using an acetylene torch to rip off copper flashing on the roof.

"It's happened before," Curwen said. "Copper fetches a good price today."

Curwen said the two buildings which burned Saturday housed manufacturing companies until about eight years ago. He said one of the buildings still had machinery with oil pans underneath while the second was full of sawdust and chips from a woodworking business.

"It created the perfect environment," he said.

Responding to the calls Saturday afternoon, Mayor Bill Finch vowed his administration "will employ all legal means to seize immediate control of this site to eliminate all avoidable health and safety risks."

"Since I took office in 2007, we have been aggressively pursing the owner of this building to pay his back taxes and to get the building torn down," Finch said. "The building is a public hazard in its current condition. Vandals are setting fires, endangering public safety, nearby homes and businesses and most importantly, the lives of our firefighters."

The site is owned by RemGrit, who, in turn owes the city at least $8.6 million in taxes. Sal DiNardo is the majority shareholder of that corporation.

"A lot of the debt was incurred before DiNardo became majority shareholder," Curwen said.

Curwen, who co-chairs the council's Economic and Development committee and is experienced in demolition contracts, believes it will cost at least $11 million to tear down the complex and remove the debris. Then comes the cost of studying and removing the contamination in the ground underneath.

"The city does not have that kind of money to pay for this," said Curwen. "We can't expect to put any more burden on our taxpayers."

Nor does Curwen believe there are any state or federal funds available in that amount.  On Saturday, Lydia Martinez, who with Manuel Ayala, serve as councilman in that district, said she intends to tour the area.

"From what I understand it is extremely dangerous now," she said. "I'm concerned not only for the firefighters, but the people who live in that area."

The oily black smoke filled the sky above western wing of the plant, south of the complex's historic shot tower.  Spectators said they saw the smoke as far north as Milford and as far south as the Saugatuck bridge in Westport.  Edwin Diaz was one of those. He saw the smoke while driving over the Saugatuck River bridge in Westport. Diaz, who lives on Goodard Avenue, was returning home from his job at City Carting in Stamford. He and Matthew Cuccaro, who biked from Black Rock, watched firefighters atop ladders four stories high pour thousands of gallons of water onto the blaze.

"This building is fully involved," said Diaz watching hot, orange flames spewing from broken windows and licking the exterior brickwork.

Fairfield, Milford and Stratford firefighters covered the city's calls as its firefighters battled the stubborn blaze.

"It's a damn shame," voiced John Soltis, of Ellsworth Avenue, whose first job was out of high school was working on ammunition shells at Remington. "The city has to decide whether they are going to do something with this or knock it down."

As of late Saturday there were no reports of injuries, but Fire Chief Brian Rooney could not be reached for comment. EMS and the Red Cross were on the scene.  The factory, a series of 13 interconnected brick buildings on 76 acres with old style timber construction, has been closed for decades. The plant has no electric or gas supply.  It opened in 1867 as the Union Metallic Cartridge Company producing ammunition and later guns for the Russian czarist army.

As time went on the factory churned out bayonets, Colt pistols, Browning machine guns, automatic rifles and bullets for every war through Vietnam.

But residents like Corey Reed of Orchard Street remember it today for the number of heavy fires set inside in recent years.  There was one on Feb. 13, another on January 28 and a third in 2005 which heavily damaged the Barnum Avenue section.

House in fire lacked permits for apartment conversion
Keila Torres, CT POST Staff Writer
Published: 11:24 p.m., Monday, July 26, 2010

BRIDGEPORT -- The third-floor apartment where two firefighters lost their lives battling a blaze Saturday was not a certified living space and had likely not been inspected by fire officials in many years.

Records at both the city's Building Department and Tax Assessor's Office show the three-story structure at 39-41 Elmwood Ave. was built as a two-family house in 1909.

Because no permits were ever issued to convert it to a three-family house, it is unlikely fire officials ever inspected the third-floor to ensure the space contained the proper fire exits. The last inspection of the attic space conducted by the assessor's office was in 1991.

Neighbors said the house's owner, listed in city records as Joan Burnett-McFarlane, lived in the third-floor apartment. She could not be reached for comment Monday.

Jose Fuentes, who lived four houses away on Elmwood Avenue, said the property had been unoccupied earlier this year while minor renovations were completed on the building.

"Four months ago they renewed the house," he said. No building permit have ever been issued for the property, though, and no site plans had ever been filed for the structure.

Another neighbor, who lives across the street from the burnt structure, said the renovations seemed to be limited to interior work, painting and the replacement of windows.

None of the residents interviewed for this story knew the owner of the structure other than having seen McFarlane entering or exiting her property. All had lived in the West Side neighborhood for less than two years.

The tenants of the second-floor apartment where the fire reportedly ignited had just finished moving their belongings into the space on Saturday morning, Fuentes said. The first-floor tenants had moved into the space just several months ago with their young children.

One man, who declined to give his name, said when the fire started flames could only be seen shooting out of a second-story window.

"All of a sudden the blaze took off and the two firemen on the roof, who weren't wearing masks or tanks, couldn't be seen anymore because of the dark smoke," he said. "At first, the water was useless."

Fuentes wondered whether the distance of the nearest fire hydrant, about a block and a half away, could have shaved precious minutes off the firefighter's efforts to quell the flames.

"If you see both sides of the street ... do you see any fire hydrants?" he asked. "In New York City, in each block they have at least two (hydrants)."

While Elmwood Avenue has no fire hydrants, at least four are positioned close to Elmwood Avenue, Elaine Ficarra, Mayor Bill Finch's spokesperson, said Monday night.

"They are within the legal (distance) limits required by law," she said. One of the hydrants, she pointed out, is at the intersection of Wood and Elmwood avenues, a short distance from the scene of the fire.

Sunday mornings sad, sad news...
Neighborhood in shock as news spreads of firefighter deaths

John Burgeson, Staff Writer
Published: 11:48 p.m., Saturday, July 24, 2010

BRIDGEPORT -- On what was perhaps the most stifling night of what has been one of the most torrid summers in memory, neighbors congregated on their stoops, streets and sidewalks Saturday evening to discuss what has been the deadliest day for the Bridgeport Fire Department in anyone's memory.

"How do you tell a fireman's family that he would not be coming home?" asked Mark Anthony Wilson, who was in the neighborhood visiting friends. "How do you explain that, especially in the line of duty?"

As with many in the West End neighborhood, he was shaking his head in disbelief. "Every day it's a sad story. A long hot summer," he said.

Like Wilson, many said the deaths only seemed to cap off what has been one of the most blood-stained summers in recent memory, with five murders recorded in the city only in the last two weeks.

Wilson was one of a number of people who gathered around the Wood Park Gazebo to try to make sense of the sad day.

"It just touched my heart," said Arlene Mercer, who lives on the other side of town. "I was, like, `You gotta be kidding me.' When you hear of the heroes of the city, the firemen, losing their lives in the line of duty, it's really tragic. With all the homicides and everything, the 17-year-old (killed) just a couple days ago, it's just too much."

Many of those in the working-class neighborhood spilled out into the blocked-off streets to discuss the sad events of the afternoon.

"It was pretty fast moving fire," said Scott Favale, who owns BevMax Liquors just a block away from the fire. "I could smell the smoke; I came out and there was a lot of commotion."

As day turned into a night that offered no relief from the heat, some of the Elmwood Avenue residents said they feared it would be awhile before they would be allowed back in their homes. Police had cordoned off the street, which is only three blocks long, and runs between Wood and Clinton Avenues.

But by about 8:30 p.m., police were letting residents under the yellow "Do Not Cross" tape on the Clinton Avenue end of the street.

Calvin Whittaker, who lives on Wood Avenue, said that he witnessed the conflagration as he was coming home from a church revival service.

"These are the last days," he said. "I'm 49, and I've seen life go from good to bad."

Yasmeed Khan said that she closed down her nightclub, the Club Azur, for the night. "It's just the right thing to do," she said. "I understand what's going on."

The club on Wood Avenue is only a stone's throw from the blaze.

"It was a crazy scene, at least seven or eight fire trucks," said Chevy Exancus, who said that the landlord, who lived in the third-floor apartment, was a "nice Jamaican lady." He said he was relieved, at least, that all of the residents got out safely

Jerthe Jean, who lives on Washington Avenue, said the young family living on the second floor had moved there only on Friday. "They had two little kids," she said.

A man who did not want to give his name, who owns the house to the rear of the one that had the fire, confirmed the second-floor family had "moved in only yesterday" and that "they lost everything."

Diane Auger, executive director of the Eastern Fairfield County chapter of the American Red Cross, said there were three families in the house that burned, and also that the landlady was distraught over the deaths.

"We're providing counseling for her, the firefighters, and the firefighters' families," she said. "It's a real community disaster."

"I'm really sorry for their loss," said Rebar Easa of the two firefighters. Easa said that had moved here from Kazakhstan just four years ago.

The West Side Fire Station is across the street from Easa's bodega, and he feared that they two firefighters who perished were from that station. However, it was learned that both of the victims were from the so-called "Seven-Eleven" fire station on Ocean Terrace near the P.T. Barnum Apartments public housing complex. Both served on Ladder 11.

The neighborhood has a mix of nationalities. Many of the residents are black, but there are Jamaicans, West Indians, Vietnamese, Puerto Ricans, Eastern Europeans and Mexicans living there, too. It's not a particularly close-knit community, and many of those interviewed for this story said that they moved here within the last two or three years.

Two Bridgeport Firefighters Die Battling Blaze, 3 Others Injured

Hartford Courant
9:28 AM EDT, July 25, 2010


Two firefighters died Saturday afternoon while battling a house fire on Elmwood Avenue.

Lt. Steven Velazquez and firefighter Michel Baik were found lying on the third floor of a three-story home at 41 Elmwood Ave. They were both transported to local hospitals — one to Bridgeport Hospital and another to St. Vincent's Medical Center — where they were pronounced dead.

The cause was possibly smoke inhalation, said Bridgeport Fire Capt. Ed McCann. The men were not burned.

"They might have run out of air up there. We're not sure yet," McCann said.

Both men lived in Bridgeport, said Elaine Ficarra, a spokeswoman for Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch. Baik, 49, had been with the department for two years, she said. Velazquez was promoted to lieutenant in February.

"Bridgeport is mourning the loss of two of its bravest," Finch said in a statement Saturday. "I urge you all to pray for the firefighters and their families during this most trying time."

Governor Rell ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff until funerals are held for the firefighters. Memorial services have not yet been scheduled for the men.

Three other firefighters suffered non-life-threatening injuries, McCann said. All of them were treated and released from local hospitals, he said.  Investigators were on the scene into the evening. Firefighters received a call about the fire shortly before 4 p.m., McCann said.  Firefighters from Bridgeport's Engine 3 were first on the scene and were later joined by Engines 1, 4 and 7, Ladders 5 and 11, Rescue 5 and the battalion chief.

The fire appears to have started on the second floor, McCann said. Three families were displaced. None of the residents were injured.

Members of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Red Cross were on hand to provide support. A mental health professional was brought in to speak with families and emergency responders.

"This is a tragedy," said Mario Bruno, chief operating officer of the Red Cross' Connecticut chapter. "We view firefighters and other first responders as true heroes who put their lives on the line. This is a great loss for the community and our thoughts are with the firefighters' families and all who are affected by this terrible fire."

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the state fire marshal's office.

Fire Damages Trailer Homes on Post Road East
Wednesday, July 07, 2010

UPDATE A fire tonight damaged two units at the Westport Housing Authority-owned Sasco Creek Village trailer park at 1655 Post Road East and exploding fireworks slowed down the firefighting effort.WestportNow.com Image

Two firefighters were slightly injured in the blaze and were taken to Norwalk Hospital for evaluation as was a woman who was resident of a nearby unit who complained of discomfort, according to police and fire officials on the scene.

The fire broke out shortly before 10 p.m. in the heavily populated post World War II housing complex which includes 35 permanent mobile homes as well as 39 affordable homes at the rear known as Hidden Brook.

Upon arrival, the rear of units 86 and 88, which were attached, were both heavily involved in fire, said Assistant Chief Larry Conklin.

Unit 86 suffered severe damage and was deemed uninhabitable, and unit 88 suffered moderate damage to the attic and roof, he said. In addition, unit 14 had vinyl siding melted due to the proximity to the burning buildings.

Conklin said members of the ladder company escorted the occupant of unit 88 out of the dwelling while the resident of unit 86 got out on his own.

He said fire suppression efforts were initially slowed down because of a large quantity of fireworks exploding inside the residence.

In addition, a quantity of propane cylinders in proximity to the fire also had to be moved away, Conklin said.

A nearby resident said someone might have been grilling outside one of the affected units and the fire spread to the adjoining one.

Police and fire investigators questioned neighbors as exhausted firefighters spread themselves on the grassy areas between trailers, drinking water and battling the high heat and humidity.WestportNow.com Image
Assistant Chief Larry Conklin, fire commander on the scene, interviews Sasco Creek Village residents tonight at 1655 Post Road East. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Firefighters on the scene said there was no problem with water pressure from the hydrants despite warnings earlier in the day from Aquarion Water Company that the heat wave could result in reduced water pressure in some areas.

Westport called in assistance from Fairfield at the fire and a unit from Wilton also responded on mutual aid, according to Chief Christopher Ackley, who was attending a Board of Finance meeting at Town Hall when the blaze broke out.

An engine company and two firefighters maintained a “fire watch” at the scene through the night in case of rekindling, Conklin said.
Posted 07/07 at 11:49 PM

Man Charged In Mill Arson
Courant Staff Report

January 20, 2007

PLAINFIELD -- A 19-year-old Sterling man was arrested Friday in connection with a massive fire that destroyed the
former InterRoyal Mill in 2005 and involved firefighters from about 25 surrounding communities.

Felix Lebron of 143 Main St. was charged with first-degree arson. His bail is set at $750,000 and he is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Superior Court in Danielson.

The fire started early in the evening of April 26, 2005, and moved quickly with the strong winds. Smoke could be seen for miles, and flames shot up about 80 feet, according to news reports. Neighbors downwind were forced to stay indoors.

State and federal officials monitored air quality because smoke, ash and other debris from the mill may have contained asbestos or other chemicals.

The mill was built in the early 1900s as a cotton mill and then was used to manufacture robes and metal hospital beds. The mill closed after its office furniture manufacturing business went bankrupt in 1985.

Sterling man charged in 2005 mill fire 
Posted on Jan 19, 2007 9:41 PM EST

PLAINFIELD, Conn. (AP) -- Plainfield police arrested a suspect Friday in a 2005 fire that destroyed much of an old mill and scattered hazardous debris around the neighborhood.

Felix Lebron, 19, of Sterling was charged with first-degree arson.

Police say the investigation is continuing but declined comment on whether more arrests are expected.

The InterRoyal Mill - a former furniture factory - had been vacant for 13 years before it burned on April 26, 2005. The massive fire scattered debris containing lead and asbestos on neighboring lawns. The town eventually got a federal grant to help with the cleanup.

Lebron being held on a $750,000 bond and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Danielson Superior Court.

EPA Wraps Up The Emergency Phase After Fire;  InterRoyal Mill Cleanup Cost Still To Be Determined
Day Staff Writer, Plainfield/Griswold/Bozrah
Published on 5/30/2005

Plainfield — One month after a huge fire lighted up the former bell tower at the InterRoyal mill like a birthday candle, the signature smoke stack to its left has been demolished.

On Friday, officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency completed the emergency remediation and demolition of the northern one-third of the former industrial building that was destroyed by the April 26 fire.

EPA On-Scene Coordinator Frank Gardner said environmental officials finished collecting samples from the abandoned mill site — including wood, brick, ash and a small amount of water used to fight the fire that had collected in the mill's foundation — on Wednesday and delivered them to an EPA lab Thursday morning for testing.

He said the materials appear to have asbestos in them but that conclusive results should be available in the next two or three weeks. At that time, Gardner will meet with town officials and representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Public Health to share the test data.

But for now, the EPA's makeshift office in the basement multipurpose room of Town Hall has been broken down and the mobile command post has left the rear parking lot.  Gardner said he is proud of the amount of work state, federal, town and fire officials accomplished since the blaze.

“We have responded to situations like this before but this could be the largest emergency response we've had in the past year,” he said.

For a month, nine teams of federal and state environmental officials and private contractors worked 12-hour shifts almost every day to remove the contaminated debris from a 5-by-1-mile area north of the site that included 681 residential, commercial and recreational properties.  Two weeks ago the EPA set up six air-quality monitoring stations at the mill site to measure dust resulting from the demolition of the charred bell tower and the fragile signature smoke stack.

The federal agency has committed $750,000 in emergency response money to cover cleanup costs. However, if the crumbled brick and debris pile is not determined to be contaminated, the EPA cannot pay for its removal under the emergency-response designation.

This is a double-edged sword, said First Selectman Donald Gladding.  On one hand the site is considered clean, a positive for the community and for potential developers hoping to salvage some of the valuable material.  On the other hand the town does not have the money to continue the demolition and removal of the burnt portion of the mill or its dirtier southern half that was not impacted by the blaze.

The town does not own the property, which has been under the auspices of a federal bankruptcy trustee since the mid-1980s, and this could pose a problem for the town when it applies for grants from various programs recommended by state and federal legislators.  Since the mill fire, Gladding has confirmed that funding pledged by U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., in a bill has been approved by Congress and signed by the president. The bill includes $250,000 to help with the clean-up costs. The town has not received the money, yet, Gladding said.

Gladding said he will wait until he receives the environmental test results to determine whether the town will proceed with the sale of the more than $1.2 million tax lien on the property.

Prior to the mill fire, the town has hoped to sell the lien to a private developer. This would allow the developer to foreclose on the property and potentially return the 16-acre site to a revenue-generating area. The town has declined to foreclose on the mill in an attempt to recoup the delinquent taxes because it would become liable for its cleanup. The sale was delayed because the mill was the center of a federal criminal investigation into the illegal demolition and release of asbestos in 2000. That investigation ceased the week before the fire.

Over the past two decades, millions of dollars have gone into removing some of the contaminants from the site, but asbestos and lead, and possibly other materials, remain the prominent problems in the still standing southern two-thirds of the building.

“The town goal is to continue the efforts to try to get it cleaned up. The concern is that the southern portion is the dirtier portion and maybe next time we won't be so fortunate that the wind will be blowing the right way,” Gladding said.

The state Department of Public Health continues to advise residents to take the following precautions when handling fire debris: wear gloves and wet the material with a fine mist before handling; place the debris in a plastic bag, seal it and dispose of it in regular trash; and do not bring any debris indoors.

A Mess And A Miracle
Hartford Courant editorial
April 29, 2005

Almost inevitably, Plainfield has joined the list of eastern Connecticut towns that have been put through living hell courtesy of the abandoned mills that once were their lifeblood.

All the ingredients were in place for the conflagration that lit up the sky at the former InterRoyal factory Tuesday night. The asbestos-riddled building should have been razed or cleaned up and renovated long ago. The business closed in 1986. But federal bureaucracy and a criminal investigation into illegal work done on the designated Superfund site in 2000 held up the work and made it a sitting duck for destruction.  Fencing placed around the mill by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wasn't secure enough to keep out vagrants and the curious. A preliminary investigation suggests that the fire probably was started by a trespasser, although whether by accident or intent has not been determined.

Residents had long predicted such a fate for the brick behemoth. Town officials have been trying for years to get the EPA money designated for cleaning up the Superfund site. The mill's prime location could have been an economic asset had the eyesore been removed in a timely manner.

How lucky then, that there were no serious injuries as a result of the blaze that required 20 fire companies to extinguish, displaced families and shut down the schools. Firefighters and emergency workers can be proud that their training paid off and their universally praised handling of the crisis almost certainly saved lives.

Given that the site contained asbestos, lead and other contaminants, it is a near miracle that, so far, air quality and water tests have revealed only minimal levels made their way into the surrounding neighborhood. Wednesday's rain may have helped diffuse the threat.

But towns shouldn't have to pray for rain to keep them from avoidable harm.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has pledged that the state will make securing the dangerous mill site a priority and worry later about the cost. Good. This situation is not just a town problem, but a public health hazard. The governor's call to action must be welcome news for the town that has endured for nearly two decades with a ticking time bomb at its center.

Friday, April 29, 2005 DAY:
Post-fire Tests ‘Encouraging,' Officials Report;  So Far, Lead And Asbestos Readings Minimal In Wake Of Plainfield Blaze
By JUDY BENSON, Health/Science/Environment Reporter

Plainfield — Bob Kropp, his voice muffled as he spoke through a respirator mask, summoned his four-person search team around him for a close look at the contents of the plastic bag he held.

“This is what we're looking at,” he said, lifting the bag full of brittle, blackened shards to eye level. “Look for anything that looks burnt, even very small pieces. As small as it may be, we've got to grab it.”

Kropp, a licensed supervisor for asbestos abatement, gave his instructions Thursday to a team of workers gathered on Pleasant Street as they began the painstaking, yard-by-yard search for charred remains of the InterRoyal mill, about a mile away.

The huge fire that destroyed the mill Tuesday night and was still burning in isolated spots Thursday had spewed bits of what were once wooden floorboards and walls onto the lawns of homes and businesses as far as seven miles away.

Because the mill was known to contain such hazardous materials as asbestos insulation and lead paint, anyone who finds the debris is asked not to pick it up, but to contact authorities and wait for cleanup crews. Asbestos is a carcinogen, while lead exposure can cause cognitive, behavioral and growth abnormalities in children, as well as reproductive and nerve disorders and hypertension in adults, among other problems.

As cleanup began away from the still-smoldering mill, monitoring of the air at and around the fire site continued. Federal and state environmental officials said Thursday that the most recent tests for airborne lead and asbestos showed levels below those considered to be health hazards. The two substances were detected at relatively high levels during and immediately after the fire, but only for the short-term. Rain Wednesday appeared to have helped settle the particles, officials said.

“We're very relieved and very encouraged,” said Jeff Chandler, emergency response coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Two types of air samples from a 1,000-foot radius around the mill will continue to be taken for at least the next several days, he said. While the fire is still burning, new plumes of smoke containing lead and asbestos could still be released. State and federal officials will wait for a consistent trend of low contamination levels over several days before they consider the area completely safe. About 40 families who live near the mill were evacuated Tuesday. Late Thursday night, they were told they could return.

Linda Colangelo, public information officer for the Northeast District Department of Health, said fact sheets about the fire-related health issues would be distributed to local gas stations.

Colangelo said that any respiratory problems in pets are probably the result of smoke and not because of the inhalation of lead or asbestos. Pets that were outside during the fire should be washed outdoors so that any contaminants are not brought indoors, she said. Colangelo encouraged pet owners to call their veterinarian or contact her office with any questions.

While lead and asbestos concerns have abated, the same is not true of dust and ash coming from the fire, said Frank Gardner, on-scene coordinator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The dust and ash comprise mainly carbon particles from the burning wood, he said, and can cause problems for those with asthma or other lung conditions.

“It's nuisance dust,” he said. “We'll continue to monitor it for the next several days.”

Colangelo advised anyone with respiratory problems to stay at least a quarter-mile away from the fire site, where crews will continue to release dust.

Ownership of the property is unclear, according to Chandler of the DEP. InterRoyal abandoned the mill and filed for bankruptcy in the mid-1980s. Chandler said DEP and EPA officials have asked legal experts to try to determine ownership to assess financial responsibility for the cleanup of the fire, if possible.

With the fire expected to be out today, Chandler said the EPA and DEP would begin planning demolition and removal of the remainder of the building and cleanup of the site. The process will be similar to those followed after mill fires in Jewett City and Baltic.

“The work itself could take months,” he said.

While the cleanup of the mill site looms, the off-site cleanup progressed Thursday in residential areas of town. Crews, clad in head-to-toe protective white jumpsuits and masks, made for a surreal spectacle as they walked through quiet neighborhoods of green lawns dotted with colorful spring flowers. They picked up tiny pieces of debris with gloved hands or small plastic scoops, then emptied them into double-lined plastic bags for disposal.

“We've asked everybody to wait to cut their grass,” said Kropp, a field technician with Kropp Environmental Contractors, of Lebanon. The company is one of four hired by government agencies to do the extensive off-site cleanup, which was expected to continue for at least several more days.

“This is going to be a long process,” said Kropp, as he spotted another burned flake in the dirt.

FROM THE DAY:  To report debris, call 230-3001. For fire-related health questions, call the state Department of Public Health at 509-7742 or the Northeast District Department of Health at 774-7350. Questions about the cleanup should be directed to the state DEP, 424-3338.

New London DAY editorial:
The InterRoyal Mill Fire
Published on 4/28/2005

The fire that destroyed the InterRoyal Mill in Plainfield was an accident waiting to happen. The town, cash-strapped as it is, has tried to get enough money to clean up the toxic waste at the long-abandoned mill, yet the money was never enough for the demanding task of environmental cleanup. The wheels of government move far too slowly under nearly any circumstances, but they certainly didn't move fast enough to safely take care of the mill problem.

All abandoned mills, to a greater or lesser degree, are magnets for vagrants and arsonists. That this awful fire occurred is not surprising; many people predicted such a thing would occur over the years. But for Plainfield, the problem is immediate. The neglected mill saddled the town with an eyesore behind its town hall for years before Tuesday night's fire, Now, the eyesore is worse and the environmental implications are of even more concern. The cleanup, which should have been done long before now, will now be more expensive. Residents have the right to be apprehensive about the health implications of the fire.

Plainfield has a mess on its hands.

Town officials met yesterday with Gov. M. Jodi Rell and will, no doubt, be meeting with state and federal government officials to coordinate the cleanup of this site. Yet the town has needed help with this mill for years. It's time the federal government, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency, heeded the urgent requests of the town in addressing what is now an ashen ruin, a blackened crater in the middle of town.

The InterRoyal mill fire is bad enough, but it is one of a continuing series of small disasters as the mills that once produced New England's prosperity fall to ruin and neglect.

This is just one more mill fire to occur in eastern Connecticut. The Baltic Mills, with its towering, granite structures, was truly beautiful, but abandoned just the same, and was burned beyond salvaging in August of 1999. That site, far from the highway, has languished. The Roto Print textile mill in Occum burned in 1985; after years of work, it is finally the site of a park. Stonington Borough's Monsanto Building in 2003 went up in flames even as a developer was in the process of renovating the structure for residences.

Mill buildings are often beautiful, with wide plank floors, tall windows and imposing towers. But usually the buildings contain dangerous asbestos which makes renovation incredibly expensive. As the structures are old, they come with none of the conveniences that modern technology and building codes demand. Years of industrial use means that the wooden floors and beams are soaked with oil and other solvents, which go up like tinder when accidental fires or arson occurs.

Connecticut's experience is duplicated in other New England states. Mill fires are simply not an unusual experience. But they are incredibly complex and dangerous to deal with, both during and after the fires.

Years ago the Quinebaug-Shetucket Corridor sponsored a conference on reusing mills. Such a conference, as part of a coordinated effort, is even more critical now.

The problem of abandoned mills is becoming ever more urgent as the years go by. Better to deal with them intelligently before a fire than than to encounter bigger problems afterward.

Fire Cause Undetermined As Town Weighs Next Step;  Years Of Planning Helped Firefighters To Contain Blaze
New London DAY, April 28, 2005

Plainfield — As the InterRoyal Mill continued to smolder Wednesday, rain fell over the burnt industrial complex, creating smoke and havoc for firefighters still at work.

Crews from about 20 fire companies continued to take eight-hour shifts dousing the brick shell with water.

Plainfield Fire Marshal Paul Yellen said the fire that erupted Tuesday into 150-foot flames started in the center of the mill, possibly in the courtyard between the main section and small wooden sheds along the railroad bed. About one-third of the mill was leveled.

How the fire started is not yet known, but Yellen said it was most likely with help from “a human hand.” He could not say whether the fire was arson or an accident but said the condition of the mill might make it difficult to officially determine the cause.

Police Chief Gary Sousa said police are investigating the fire, but he would not say whether there are any suspects.

The mill, the centerpiece of the Lawton Mills Historic District and in the early 1900s the gem of Plainfield Village, has attracted less economic development and more unwelcome trespassers since the InterRoyal Corp. filed for bankruptcy and left Plainfield in the mid-1980s.

For residents and town officials it wasn't if the mill would catch fire, it was when. Local volunteer fire companies, police, and residents and businesses around the mill had emergency plans in place.

Yellen and Plainfield Fire Chief Leo Berube said planning was a major reason why firefighters were able to contain the fire to the mill complex. Fire crews had drilled for six years, they said, and until town officials declared the mill unsafe in 2000, firefighters walked through the structure periodically to update information on its soundness.

The plan divided the mill, which was split into two parts by a large central firebreak created illegally in 2000, into sections assigned to different fire companies.

Nearly 200 firefighters from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut responded to the fire. Officials said only one was injured, in a nonfirefighting-related accident.

Power was cut to the village for six hours to allow truck ladders to extend over the fire.

Plainfield Assistant Fire Chief Daniel Hutchinson was the first fire official on the scene because he was attending a Police Commission meeting in town hall. He took command and said he ordered that “at absolutely no time should people be in the building.”

The gigantic structure had been in a state of decay for nearly two decades; the roof had collapsed in areas, the windows were gone. A federal criminal investigation looked into the illegal demolition of sections of the asbestos-laden mill. A designated Super Fund site, the InterRoyal has long been on federal and state environmental cleanup lists.

The five-year federal investigation has also kept the town from marketing the property, which it does not own, to potential developers and from securing grant funding to pay for cleanup. U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said Tuesday night that the investigation was in the process of being officially closed when the fire struck.


In a press conference Wednesday in a town hall parking lot that overlooks the former textile and furniture mill, Gov. M. Jodi Rell promised that “resources will be available” to Plainfield for securing the site and demolishing and removing the charred debris.

The governor met privately with town and fire officials and environmental agency representatives for 30 minutes inside Town Hall before examining the still-smoldering ruins.

Rell addressed reporters in the rain and spray from firefighter hoses, her voice competing with the noise of firetruck engines and motors maneuvering the tower ladders into position.

“They did a marvelous job fighting this fire,” Rell said after thanking firefighters.

The governor said asked First Selectman Donald Gladding for a priority list of what needs to be done, starting with securing the area.

Rell said preliminary environmental testing for contamination “will determine our next course of action.”

Gladding said the town's immediate responsibility — and cost — will be to secure the site. He ordered new fencing Wednesday and said 24-hour security patrols are likely.

The north end of the mill is now three-story, free-standing, charred brick walls. Gladding said the damaged portion should be torn down as soon as possible, but Plainfield doesn't have money to pay for that up front. And most likely the town will have to wait for the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection Agency to clean the site before the building can be razed.

Still, Gladding said he hopes the dangerous portions of the mill can be torn down by the end of May. He recommended the entire mill complex be demolished at the same time and the site prepared for redevelopment. Last summer, the town received a rough estimate that it could cost about $1 million to tear down the complex. He couldn't say what that figure would be now.

Although the Villa Maria convalescent home was not evacuated, as originally reported, local health department officials, state DEP and local fire departments regularly checked on the residents. Firefighters were stationed at the rear of the building to protect it from any flaming debris.

Plainfield Fire Chief Leo Berube said 20 people were evacuated from houses north of the mill site and early Wednesday 25 families were told to leave their homes to the west of the mill along First, Second and Third streets and Third Street Extension.

The Early Childhood Center on Route 12 served as a makeshift shelter for some of the displaced families. The American Red Cross provided cots so people could stay there again Wednesday night after health officials advised against their returning home. Some were expected to stay with friends or family.


Superintendent of Schools Mary Conway was waiting for air contamination test results before deciding whether Plainfield Public Schools would open today. The schools were closed Wednesday because ash and debris had fallen onto the Central Village campuses of Plainfield High School and Shepard Hill Elementary School. A wind shift from north to west Wednesday enveloped the Plainfield Memorial and Central schools on Route 14A with smoke. Only the Moosup Elementary School and the ECC were not affected by the fire.

Conway urged parents and employees to tune into local radio and television stations to find out whether school would open today.

“I want to stress that we will err on the side of caution and will not bring children into school if there is any possibility that situation is unsafe,” Conway said.

If it is not, it could pose a problem for high school seniors. The state mandates that students attend 180 days of school. With graduation scheduled for June 9, if the seniors miss school today they will only have attended classes for 179 days. Conway said the Board of Education will have to decide how it will address the problem: school on Memorial Day, double sessions, postpone graduation or ask the state to make an exception.

For more information about the fire situation or any questions regarding property, phone the first selectman's office at 230-3001. For information on the public school district, contact the superintendent's office at 564-6403.

Fire's Environmental Impact On Area Near Mill Being Investigated
Day Staff Writer, Norwich
Published on 4/28/2005

Plainfield — Tests of air samples taken at and near the InterRoyal Mill site detected lead and asbestos, though tests of groundwater in the vicinity appeared to show no sign of the contaminants, state and federal officials said late Wednesday night.

The state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted tests throughout the day in the wake of Tuesday's spectacular fire at the mill.

At a 10 p.m. press conference, Janice Tsang, an EPA spokeswoman, said lead was detected “in relatively high concentrations” on the north side of the mill building. She said more samples would be taken at 3 a.m. today.

Tsang said the tests also found lead at Plainfield High School, which is about four miles from the mill.

DEP spokesman Jeff Chandler gave results of air sampling for asbestos. The DEP sampled more than two-dozen sites within a 5-by-3-mile area north of the fire scene. Chandler displayed a map of the area showing asbestos found at about eight of those.

Chandler said according to preliminary results, the groundwater appeared to be safe.

Linda Colangelo, a spokeswoman for the Northeast Health District, said that people who had been displaced –– about 40 families from 20 duplexes –– should not yet return to their homes.

The Red Cross operated a shelter at the Early Childhood Center on Route 12, but most residents stayed with family or friends, town officials said.

Early Wednesday, two federal environmental officials studied a large aerial photo of Lawton Mill village, marking neighborhoods, schools and town property where they planned to set up air-pollution monitoring devices.

They rolled up the photo and headed out, intent on learning whether debris from Tuesday night's fire posed a hazard to the surrounding residential neighborhood, schools and playgrounds.

Officials were most concerned about airborne asbestos and lead paint, both of which were present in abundance in the 19th century brick and wooden mill.

Gary Lipson, on-scene coordinator for the EPA, said rain Wednesday provided a natural cleansing agent against the airborne particles. “The normal procedure with asbestos is you wet it down,” Lipson said.

Asbestos is a natural fibrous mineral used as insulation because of its resistance to heat. Inhaled fibers don't break down in the lungs and can cause cancer. Those exposed to asbestos regularly or on a long-term basis –– such as in a work environment –– are most at risk, according to a fact sheet provided Wednesday by the state Department of Public Health.

“It is unlikely that anyone in the area of a fire will have more than a short-term, low-level exposure from the fire,” the fact sheet said.

Schools were closed Wednesday, and Town Hall served as a command center for fire, town and police officials throughout the day and into the night. The fire continued to smolder and firefighters had to keep hoses trained on hot spots.

School Superintendent Mary Conway said she would decide early this morning whether to reopen schools, and advised parents to rely on radio and television reports.

The overnight fire destroyed the northern third of the vacant mill and spewed ash and debris on properties up to five miles from the site. Town, state and federal health and environmental officials cautioned residents not to touch the material, but to call Town Hall at 230-3001 to report any debris in their yards. The phone line was to be staffed throughout Wednesday night and this morning, town officials said.

By midday Wednesday, about 15 residents had called Town Hall to report debris, which Kropp Environmental Services of Lebanon was hired by the state Department of Environmental Protection to collect. Crews from the company donned white protective suits and gloves in front of Town Hall before combing the area there for debris.

The EPA used small air monitoring devices to measure contaminants. The monitors, about 6 inches tall, were stationed in four places early Wednesday. Three monitors were put in each location, one each for asbestos, lead and total particulates, Lipson said.

They chose five more locations based on the aerial photo and the wind direction –– along Route 14A, in the neighborhood north of Railroad Avenue and at local schools. The monitors collect six hours' worth of particulates, which are sent to state laboratory for results.

Canterbury Firefighters Found Themselves In The Hot Seat
New London DAY
Published on 4/28/2005

Canterbury -- At 7:11 P.M. Tuesday, Deputy Fire Chief Al LaVoie's pager went off. He pulled it from his pocket. At the time, he and his wife were evaluating an alarm system for their home.

“I wouldn't have left unless it was the big one,” LaVoie recalled Wednesday.

“Plainfield, signal 50” flashed across the pager's screen, followed by “Mill fire. InterRoyal. Calls from Railroad Avenue.”

LaVoie kissed his 6-year-old son goodbye and headed for Canterbury's fire station on Route 14.

The town's volunteer fire department played a key role in the first wave of responders to the blaze that claimed the abandoned mill just a stone's throw from Plainfield's Town Hall.

LaVoie and firefighter Andy Burroughs slouched on a couch in the fire station basement Wednesday afternoon. With bleary eyes and legs outstretched, they recalled the nearly 15 hours they spent at the mill the night before. Flanking them in easy chairs, Fire Chief Kyle McCarthy and firefighter Mike Banning helped fill in details.

As dusk settled Tuesday evening, the men said, they could see black clouds spreading across the horizon.

“When we saw the smoke from the station,” LaVoie said, “we knew we'd be up all night.”

Twenty-three of the department's 51 volunteers responded to the call. They pulled out every piece of equipment they could, including a brushfire truck, a ladder truck and a phalanx of emergency vehicles.

“We emptied the barn,” said McCarthy.

Within a short time, the Canterbury crew was at the northwest corner of the mill, in what Plainfield firefighters described as the most severe part of the conflagration.

“Canterbury took a beating with the smoke last night,” Plainfield Fire Chief Leo Berube said Wednesday.

With firefighters from Scotland, Griswold and the Mortlake Fire Company in Brooklyn, the men were sent to block the fire at the corner of First Street and Railroad Avenue, directly in the path of shifting northwesterly winds. Behind them, the blaze soon threatened the Horsebrook Café, a social club and a series of mill houses across the street.

“It felt like we were in a blizzard, except it was all burning embers,” LaVoie said. “At that point, Mike looked at me and said, ‘Whoa, this is cool!' ”

For 18-year-old Mike Banning, it was the first major fire of his career. “If anything, he loves it more now,” LaVoie said

Once in position, the Canterbury company extended its ladder and hose to work with other departments in a maneuver they described as “surround and drown.” On the ground, spot fires flared up all around.

“You (had) fires rolling all around the truck,” LaVoie said.

The men quickly began putting out the flaming piles.

“I had flashbacks of Jewett City,” McCarthy said, referring to a mill fire in the borough 10 years ago that left homes along Ashland Street severely damaged. An amazing level of cooperation between departments, he said, resulted in a far better outcome —this time, nothing but the mill burned.

The last truck back to Canterbury pulled into the garage at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday after Taftville was called in to replace the men at the scene. The fire, the men said, would likely burn for days.

Plainfield fire believed to have been set
New London DAY
Published on 4/27/2005

Plainfield — Town Fire Marshal Paul Yellen said today that the fire that destroyed the vacant InterRoyal Mill Tuesday night appeared to have been set, but Yellen said it was too soon to determine if the fire resulted from an intentional arson or resulted from carelessness. He said teens had recently been found trespassing on the property.

As of this afternoon, firefighters were still pouring water on the smoldering remains, 18 hours after the spectacular fire first erupted at the mill. The blaze gutted the interior, but most of the three-story brick walls remain standing. A gray plume of smoke drifted through heavy rains and over an adjacent neighborhood, leading to a decision by health officials to ask residents of 1st, 2nd and 3rd streets to temporarily evacuate their homes until the smoke died down. About 25-30 homes are located on those streets.

Another 20 homes near the mill had been evacuated Tuesday night. Those residents have not  been allowed to return.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was setting up five air quality monitoring stations down wind of the fire scene to test for asbestos, lead and other potentially hazardous materials that may have blown from the fire scene. Three monitoring stations were operating overnight, but results of that testing was not yet available.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell is planning to inspect the site this afternoon and consult with various agencies about the relief efforts.

Mill Destroyed By Fire;  InterRoyal Structure In Plainfield Goes Up In Flames; No One Hurt, Cause Unknown

New London DAY
April 27, 2005

Plainfield — The town's greatest nightmare came true Tuesday evening when the InterRoyal mill — a gigantic, blighted historic structure that cast shadows over Plainfield Village — went up in flames, potentially spreading asbestos fibers into the surrounding villages.

Nearly two dozen volunteer fire departments responded to the 7:10 p.m. call for the blaze at the old mill located behind Town Hall. Scores of firefighters worked tirelessly to contain the blaze as it ripped through the three-story main building and lit up the former bell tower in the middle of the structure like a candle with a frayed wick.

A cause for the fire, and the exact area where it started, had not been identified late Tuesday.

It's an event that many locals had prophesied and one that has concerned town officials for some time.

The mill, which has been vacant since the 1980s, is a Superfund site that has been the subject of a federal investigation into the illegal demolition and release of asbestos in 2000. After an arson fire in the mill that summer, Edward Carroll, a Vermont-based contractor, razed two sections of the structure, allegedly to create firebreaks to protect the adjacent Pervel Mill in case of such a blaze.

In 2003 Carroll pleaded guilty to violating the federal 2004 the town's former economic development director was convicted of giving Carroll permission to demolish the structures without following federal environmental guidelines.

In 2000, and again in 2003, the federal Environmental Protection Agency fenced off the site as it awaited enough federal funding for the cleanup and possible demolition of the structure. But the chain-link fence has not been enough to keep vagrants, homeless people and curious trespassers off the property, said First Selectman Donald Gladding.

Gladding and his predecessors have worked to obtain the money necessary to clean up and raze the mill through the EPA, the congressional delegation and other sources, but it has never been enough.

“The EPA could have spent $1 million to clean up the property,” said resident John Meyer as he watched the fire in its infant stages from the rear lawn of the Town Hall. “Now it could cost $10 million to sweep up Plainfield,” he said as dark smoke sparkling with burning asbestos particles spread as far as the village of Wauregan.

Meyer has walked the InterRoyal property dozens of times as a Plainfield resident, planning and conservation commission member, and a project manager for Tetra Tech US, Inc., an environmental firm that did two studies on the mill for the EPA and the town.

On Tuesday night, as Meyer watched the mill go up in flames, he spoke with awe, concern and bewilderment.

According to Meyer, based on where the flames were first seen, the fire could have started in the boiler room or the nearby courtyard. The roof of that area had long since collapsed, so it has been exposed to the elements.

As the fire spread up the old tower, the antique wooden water tanks at its peak crackled and then burst into flames. The blaze spread across the remaining portions of tattered roof on the mill's lower sections and eventually reached the wooden sheds that run along the exterior close to the railroad tracks. It did not take long for flames to engulf the sheds, under which is buried a 75,000-gallon No. 6 fuel oil tank.


Meyer last walked the property two or three years ago for Tetra Tech. On Tuesday he noted there was nothing in the building that would explode except for some old fire extinguishers, because the federal Environmental Protection Agency had removed most of the hazardous materials in the early 1990s.

Representatives from the EPA and state Department of Environmental Protection were monitoring the fire and the air quality to determine the amount of asbestos released Tuesday. Public safety officials and elected officials set up a command center in the rear of the Town Hall parking area.

Central Village Fire Chief Bob Lewis said small brush fires had started on the property but no damage had been reported to the residential properties, businesses or convalescent homes near the mill.

Meyer said about 200 cubic yards of lead-paint sludge is buried on the far side of the mill, close to a neighborhood. He said if the fire should spread there it would certainly disturb the sludge. It was not clear Tuesday night whether the brush fires were in that area.

Tom and Lauren Southern of Center Street were on their way home from Providence when they saw the smoke from Route 6. Police directed them to park their car on Gallup Hill, so they walked home carrying their 20-pound dog. Police would not allow them to get their van to bring Lauren's 62-year-old mother and their three children, the youngest of them one month old, to a safer location.

Kathy and David LeClair have lived across the street from the mill at 21 Community Ave. for 25 years. David's father worked in the mill for 44 years.

“He said one of these days it was going to go up,” David said. “He was right.”

The LeClairs described the initial flames as climbing up the smoke stack with the InterRoyal name painted on its side.

Although some residents of the Villa Maria convalescent home were removed, Lewis said in a later press conference that they did not evacuate any homes. “It is easier to protect civilians in their residences,” he said.

The chief said people who were already out of their houses were not able to go back in because the streets surrounding the mill area were blocked off.

Resident Sandy Collins said ash from the heavy smoke had fallen into the trees and lawn at her Wauregan home.

Lewis said if there is residue on a lawn the property owner should call the Plainfield Fire Department at 564-5541. He stressed not to touch the debris because of concern about the asbestos that was most likely released in the fire.


At 10:20 p.m., with the mill still fully engulfed, Gladding said no one had been injured. The first selectman said it was fortunate that the wind was blowing to the north end of the village.

“To the east and west there are circa-1900s houses. The chances of the houses catching fire would have been higher,” he said.

Around that time fire officials shifted their efforts to the northern section of the mill. The fire continued to burn as midnight approached.

Aside from his concern for residents, Gladding was worried about the property's future; the town has targeted it for more than two decades as a key to the town's revitalization.

Last month at a town meeting residents voted to allow the town to sell the $1 million tax lien it holds on the property. Once the lien is sold to a developer, the new owner could foreclose and create some economic opportunities on the site.

But the sale was put on hold as the town waited for the U.S. Attorney's Office to finish its criminal investigation into the 2000 incident.

Late Tuesday U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said the investigation into the environmental crimes has been closed. O'Connor said it was a collective decision to close the investigation, made by his office and the District One EPA headquarters in Boston. He investigations are generally closed when the office no longer has sufficient evidence to prove that criminal wrongdoing was involved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Staff Writer Richard Rainey contributed to this story.

"About Town" is not very familiar with this part of CT...is the newly OK'd "commercial zone" anywhere nearby the fire site?
Wednesday, April 27, 2005 New London DAY:
Plainfield Resident Seeks Town Documents On Commercial Zone;  FOI Complaint Says Officials Did Not Give Him Transcripts

Plainfield— A staunch opponent of the Planning and Zoning Commission's decisions to create a new commercial zone and to rezone more than 900 acres for commercial development has filed several requests for town documents under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Resident David Ertsgard also filed a complaint Tuesday with the state Freedom of Information Commission, charging that the town's planning department has failed to provide him with copies of transcripts of a March 22 commission meeting.

Planning officials have said they cannot provide Ertsgard with a copy of transcripts they themselves do not have.

In his complaint, Ertsgard said he visited the planning office on three occasions over the past three weeks requesting a copy of the transcript of the March 22 meeting, at which the commission voted to approve regulations creating a Resort/Recreational Development District. On all three occasions, he said, Town Planner Lou Soja said the department did not have a copy of the transcript.

Ertsgard said that when he again requested a copy Monday, Soja flatly refused him and said the transcript was going to be used in court proceedings and that Ertsgard could not have a copy of it. Six appeals, including one by Ertsgard's Concerned Citizens for the Quiet Corner, have been filed in Superior Court regarding the March 22 vote.

Soja said Tuesday that he cannot give Ertsgard what his office does not have.

Soja said the planning department requested that a court reporter be present at the March 22 meeting so that the town would have a transcript in the event it was sued over the commission's eventual decision. He said meeting minutes and tape recordings of commission meetings are available to the public.

Soja said he had not requested a copy of the March 22 transcript until Monday night. He said the town should receive a copy of the transcript in two to three weeks.

In a letter he said he wrote Tuesday, Soja told Ertsgard he would provide him with a copy of the transcript as soon as the planning department receives its copy.

Ertsgard also had filed an FOI request April 15 for “all computer records” from computers used by the first selectman, the zoning enforcement officer, the planning secretary and Soja.

On Tuesday, Ertsgard filed a fourth FOI request with First Selectman Donald Gladding, asking for copies of any statements read into the record by planning commission members Monday night in connection with their votes on the application to rezone more than 900 acres east of Interstate 395 at Exits 87 and 88 to create the new resort/recreational district.

Four Charged In Fires That Displaced Dozens In Norwich

The Hartford Courant

By SAMAIA HERNANDEZ, smhernandez@courant.com
7:42 PM EDT, July 25, 2012

NORWICH A woman and three men intentionally set two fires in March that damaged four buildings and displaced two dozen residents, police said on Wednesday.

Four local residents were charged with two counts of first-degree arson, two counts of third-degree burglary, and two-counts of first-degree criminal mischief: Laura J. MacDonald, 45, of 401 West Thames St.; Nicholas R. Fauquet, 18, of 38 McKinley Ave.; Matthew Markham, 18, of 287 Laurel Hill Ave.; and Jonathan O. Ortiz, 24, no address given.

A vacant apartment building at 7-9 Oak St. was deemed a total loss after fire broke out on March 26. The building sustained more than $500,000 in damages, fire officials said. Three neighboring apartment buildings also were damaged and two dozen residents were displaced.

On March 29, a fire at 11 Lake St. Damage caused an estimated $75,000 in damages.

MacDonald, who was arrested Tuesday, was arraigned at Superior Court in Norwich with bail set at $600,000. Fauquet, Markham, and Ortiz also were held on $600,000 bail each and are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.

Anyone with information in connection with fires in Norwich is asked to call police at 860-886-5561

'Serial arsonist' charged in mill, hospital fires
By Karen Florin Day Staff Writer
Article published Sep 18, 2010

Accused serial arsonist Kevin M. Walker has been charged with setting fire to the Capehart Mill in Norwich in April and the former Norwich State Hospital more than three years ago.

Walker, 22, who is in custody at the New Haven Correctional Center, was brought to Superior Court in Norwich Friday where Norwich police and state police each served him with the arrest warrants charging him with first-degree arson, third-degree burglary and first-degree criminal mischief.

Walker has been charged with several crimes by a task force investigating a string of arsons in and around Norwich over the past five years and has confessed to police that he is a "serial arsonist."

According to an arrest warrant affidavit in the Capehart case, Walker enlisted five others to join him at the unoccupied mill in the Greeneville section of the city on April 27 and bragged beforehand that he planned to set a fire "like nobody else has ever seen."

Ramon Ortiz, Walker and Laura J. McDonald climbed over a chain link fence topped with barbed wire to gain entry to the mill, then used gasoline to start fires at three points of origin, police said. Three others, Michael L. Baker, Victoria Ercoli and James Vanech, stood lookout or watched.

The fire took three days and seven million gallons of water to extinguish. Police said the blaze exposed firefighters and neighboring residents to asbestos. A city firefighter was treated for a non-life-threatening injury.

Walker is the sixth and last person expected to be arrested in the investigation, said Norwich police Sgt. Peter Camp, who added that the task force is still looking at other cases.

The Norwich State Hospital fire occurred on Aug. 11, 2007, and completely consumed a room on the second floor of the abandoned hospital's administration building. Walker is the second person to be charged in the case. Police recently charged Steven LaMotte, 23, of New Britain, in the case.

Walker's next court date is Oct. 5. His cases have all been transferred to the New London court where major crimes are tried.

Six Charged In Norwich Mill Fire; Police Expect More Arrests

KIM VELSEY, kvelsey@courant.com
7:44 PM EDT, August 25, 2010

NORWICH —Police have arrested four people in connection with a massive fire that destroyed the Capehart Mill in April. Two others have also been charged with first-degree arson, but they are currently incarcerated in Connecticut on unrelated charges. Police say that they anticipate further arrests.

On Tuesday morning police arrested Michael Baker, 23, of Taftville; Laura MacDonald, 43, of Norwich; and Victoria Ercoli, 19, also of Norwich. They were all charged with first-degree arson. The fourth person, James Vanech, 19, of Groton, turned himself in on Tuesday night after hearing that there was a warrant for his arrest, police say. He was also charged with first-degree arson.

Kevin Walker, 22 and Ramon Ortiz, 22, both of Moosup, have been charged with first-degree arson, and are in custody on other charges. Police say that arrest warrants for the two will be served at a later time.

The April 27 blaze at the abandoned mill took firefighters three days to put out, with 18 fire departments responding. Police say that they are still investigating the fire, as well as other suspicious fires that happened in the area.

Fire Destroys Norwich Family's Home; Lack of hydrants hurts firefighting; no one injured, but four pets missing 
By Chuck Potter, Claire Bessette    
Published on 5/15/2007 
Norwich — Fire destroyed a two-story colonial-style home in Yantic Monday afternoon after firefighters arrived to find it engulfed in flames and struggled to get enough water to fight the inferno.  The owners of the home, at 2 Deepwoods Drive, are Gary and Lisa Carignan. One of their four children, Olivia, 13, was in the house alone when the fire began shortly before 5 p.m. She escaped unharmed.  No one was injured fighting the blaze, including members of nine departments that contributed to the effort.

“When we arrived there was heavy smoke,” Yantic Fire Chief Frank Blanchard said. “We started attacking it with two tanker trucks. This is a very rural location with no hydrants. So we were water-challenged. The fire got a good jump on us.”

Blanchard said the first call came from a resident on Scotland Road who saw the smoke from more than 1,000 feet away.  Blanchard said the cause of the fire had not yet been determined. He said most of the family had left the home at about 3:15 p.m. and returned about 25 minutes after firefighters arrived.

A tanker brigade from seven departments — Bozrah, Lisbon, Colchester, Oakdale, Franklin, Gardner's Lake and Salem — shuttled water from hydrants more than two miles away, at Case and West Town streets, and at Scotland Road and East Town Street. At the intersection of Deepwoods and Scotland Road, firefighters from Yantic, East Great Plain and Lisbon manned portable tanks that resembled square wading pools. Tanker trucks emptied water into the tanks, each with a capacity of 3,000 gallons, then returned to a hydrant for more.

All of the equipment available at the East Great Plains, Yantic, Taftville and Bozrah departments was called into service. Occum, Laurel Hill and Baltic departments also assisted. The Salvation Army Canteen provided food and bottled water to the firefighters.  Blanchard said the fire was concentrated in the area of the kitchen and dining area of the house and a rear porch overlooking a pool and trampoline in the back yard of the two-acre property.

“That's where we're concentrating our investigation,” he said. “The house was consumed rapidly.”

No walls or framework were left standing on the left side of the house. Only three of six second-story windows remained. Viewing the house from the right side to the left told the story of the heat that consumed it. The deep green clapboard became darker and darker, turning black to the left of the three-step front stoop whose wrought-iron railings were warped. The clapboards were destroyed on the far left side down to the foundation. On that side, only the chimney remained standing — until a construction crew was called in to take it down.

The yard was burned in an arc that extended about 40 feet from the house.  Members of the Carignan family appeared in shock as they watched through a thick, smoky haze as firefighters doused the remains of their home from a ladder truck in the front yard. Emotion overcame them at times, as they crouched and hugged one another.

“We're just so thankful that everyone is safe,” Lisa Carignan said.

She and her husband Gary built the house in 1987 and raised their four children there. Their youngest daughter, Olivia, was the only one home at the time the fire began. A friend and her mother were approaching the house to pick up Olivia when they smelled smoke and called 911. Olivia's friend ran into the house to get her.

At the same time, Scott Appleton and Neil Warner, both of Canterbury and employees of Bartlett Tree Experts, were working next-door cutting down a tree. They saw smoke and ran to the house. They, too, called 911 as they saw the fire “consuming the back porch,” Appleton said. They grabbed a gas grill and propane tank and moved them away from the flames. The keys were in a Chevrolet Malibu in the driveway, so they drove it down to the end of the dead-end street out of harm's way.

“The wind was blowing from the back and blew the fire right into the house,” Warner said. “It got all the oxygen it needed.”

Gary and Lisa Carignan and Lisa's mother, Hilda Levy, were at a Norwich Free Academy baseball game in Ledyard. Their son, Connor Carignan, 17, is a member of the NFA team. Another son, Andrew, 20, is a student at the University of North Carolina, and another daughter, Kayleigh, 18, is a student at Clemson University.

Gary Carignan said he received a message during the baseball game that his house was on fire. At the scene, he discussed the fire with Blanchard, the fire chief, and accepted hugs from neighbors.  Olivia stayed at her friend's house throughout the evening.

As she watched, Kayleigh tried to talk to well-wishers through tears. Levy said Andrew called from North Carolina and said, “I just want my dog.”

The family's pets, a golden retriever named Maddie, two cats and a chinchilla, were in the house when the fire started and are reported missing.  As the evening wore on, members of the NFA baseball team made their way up Scotland Road, parking their cars as close as they could get and walking the rest of the way to offer support to their teammate.

Owner Of Destroyed Home Files Suit Against Mystic Fire District
By Katie Warchut
Published on 7/29/2009

Groton - Just before the one-year anniversary of her historic house on Library Street burning down, Gretchen Chipperini followed through on her stated intent to sue the Mystic Fire District and its various members, along with the towns of Groton and Stonington.  Meanwhile the Town of Groton continues to battle to get the remains of the house - destroyed by a fire July 25, 2008 - torn down for safety reasons.

Former probationary officer William Celtruda confessed to setting the fire, according to court documents, and is charged with arson.

Chipperini, represented by attorney Peter A. Berdon of New Haven, filed the suit along with her mother, Inge Chipperini, through Ultegra LLC last week, six months after filing a notice of her intent to sue.  It recounts information found in Celtruda's arrest-warrant affidavit - that firefighters had allegedly teased Celtruda because he had never fought a “real” fire.

Celtruda allegedly drank alcohol with fellow firefighters Kyle Hilbert, Chris Paige, Brian Molkenthin and Nick Allyn, who are named as defendants in the civil suit, before the fire.  The suit says Celtruda, still drunk, went to the Library Street house and set it on fire. It claims the other firefighters responded to the fire alarm also while drunk.  As a result, the house was destroyed, along with personal property and effects, to the financial detriment of Ultegra LLC and emotional distress of the Chipperinis, the suit claims.

They allege the fire district failed to provide proper training and supervision of the firefighters and officers.  They also claim the district failed to establish and/or enforce policies prohibiting the consumption of alcohol by firefighters while on duty, along with policies to prevent hazing, mistreatment or taunting of junior firefighters.  They allege the district failed to establish and/or implement proper procedures to psychologically screen prospective firefighters and to intervene and prevent the setting of the fire.

Finally, the suit claims the district violated the National Fire Protection Association by permitting firefighters who were under the influence of alcohol to participate in fire department operations.

The suit names as defendants: Christopher Wilkins, chairman of the fire district; Frank C. Hilbert, chief and fire marshal; Anthony P. Manfredi Jr., assistant fire chief; John H. Kennedy, treasurer and Christopher May, captain of the Hoxie Company.  Groton's lawsuit against Chipperini, meanwhile, continues despite the granting of the town's motion for judgment last month.

Chipperini is asking that the judgment be opened because the court had not received the answers her attorney had allegedly filed, saying, in part, that the town is trying to deprive the Chipperinis of their property.

Chipperini claims the remaining portion of the house can be salvaged, and there have been “serious inquiries about rehabilitating the structure,” according to the suit.

Town Attorney Michael Carey called to the court's attention Chipperini's history with the property, which was constantly under construction and the source of complaints. The work caused an unsafe sidewalk on Route 1 and Chipperini blocked initial efforts to fix it.

Carey wrote that the disputes “are but additional sad episodes in this sad history,” adding that it seems the “goal is to delay the disposition of this matter for as long as possible.”

A hearing on the suit has been scheduled for Aug. 3.

Swimming Pool Company President Charged With Manslaughter
Hartford Courant
The Associated Press
4:25 PM EDT, July 21, 2008

GREENWICH - A swimming pool company president was charged Monday with second-degree manslaughter in connection with the drowning of a 6-year-old boy whose arm was trapped by the suction of a powerful drain pump.

Shoreline Pools President David Lionetti was released on $25,000 bail. If convicted of the felony, he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Police in Greenwich said Lionetti, 53, of Stamford, "recklessly caused the death" of Zachary Cohn by failing to have his company install mandated safety devices in the pool the company built for the boy's family. Police alleged the safety devices would have prevented the boy's death.

Since 1985, more than 150 cases have been reported around the country of swimming pool drain entrapments, leading to at least 48 deaths and many serious injuries, including disembowelment, of children and adults, according to a lawsuit filed by Zachary's parents.

Lionetti plans to plead not guilty, said his attorney, Richard Meehan Jr. "To my knowledge this is the first time an executive from a pool company has been prosecuted for homicide for claimed code violations in the installation of a pool," Meehan said.

Meehan declined to comment on the issue of safety devices, saying he had not seen the arrest affidavit yet.

Prosecutor David Cohen said he believed there have been other criminal prosecutions involving pool safety issues, but agreed the prosecution was unusual. Asked if he expected anyone else to be charged, he said, "Not at this point."

Police said Zachary Cohn drowned when his arm became stuck in an intake valve in the deep end of the family's in-ground pool on July 26, 2007. Water entering the intake valve is pumped through filters before being returned to the pool.

The family's lawsuit, filed in January, alleged the pool violated safety code requirements designed in response to the rash of similar cases around the country.

The lawsuit was filed in Stamford Superior Court by Brian Cohn, former president of one of the world's largest hedge funds, SAC Capital Advisors, and his wife, Karen, against the town of Greenwich, Shoreline Pools and others.

"Nothing will bring our son back but we hope this prosecution will help prevent another horrific incident like this from happening to someone else," the parents said in a statement released by their attorneys. "Those who knowingly violate pool safety codes designed to protect children should be held accountable for their actions."

Lionetti's arrest came three days after fire destroyed the company's Stamford warehouse. Thirteen police officers and four firefighters were treated for chemical exposure and other issues. The cause of the fire, which also destroyed 38 trucks, had not yet been determined Monday.

Fire slams force: 13 police officers treated for exposure to chemicals
By Jeff Morganteen

Staff Writer
Article Launched: 07/21/2008 02:37:15 AM EDT

STAMFORD - By the time 19-year-old Alex Lionetti arrived, his family's business warehouse was in flames. Black plumes of smoke hung over the building, and one of the walls began crumbling, he said yesterday.

Lionetti said that a friend Friday night drove past the warehouse at 246 Selleck St., saw the smoke and called him. Lionetti, who sped to the warehouse with his brother, heard his father's company Ford Ranger pickup trucks explode one by one.

"You couldn't describe that," Lionetti said. "It was out of control. Everytime you heard a truck blow up, you saw the biggest black cloud in the sky."

The three-alarm chemical fire, reported at 10:45 p.m. Friday, hit the Shoreline Pools warehouse where pool cleaning supplies, chemicals, trucks and vacuums were stored, Lionetti said.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation last night.

Stamford police spokesman Lt. Sean Cooney said the fire nearly decimated the department's midnight shift as 13 officers were treated for exposure to chemicals at the scene.

"It was kind of a scary situation," Cooney said. "For a while there, we were somewhat incapacitated because of that event."

Cooney said four state police troopers had to be called in to patrol the city. He said it appeared none of the officers were seriously injured.

The blaze destroyed 38 trucks, hampering the company's maintenance operations. Lionetti said the company services more than 2,000 pools a week.  did not return phone messages seeking comment about the fire. The company headquarters is at 393 West Ave.

Several residences were evacuated Friday night, but no families were sent to shelters or hotels, said Patty Burke, executive director of the Stamford/Darien chapter of the American Red Cross.

Lionetti, who is employed in the maintenance and cleaning division of his father's company, worked Saturday despite having only one working truck. The company cleans pools in Westchester County, N.Y., and New Jersey as well as in Fairfield County, Lionetti said.

"It was kind of chaos," he said. "We were running around trying to get as many trucks as we had. It was crazy."

California turns corner on wildfires
By Adam Tanner
25 October 2007
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Firefighters gained the upper hand on nearly all of the California wildfires on Thursday as winds died down after five days battling 20 fires from the mountains north of Los Angeles down to the Mexican border.   Most of the 500,000 people in the largest evacuation in California's modern history were on their way home, officials said. Some 1,600 homes have been destroyed since Sunday.  Two burned bodies were found in a house in hard-hit San Diego County, bringing the death toll to at least eight. Most were elderly who died while being evacuated.

"This is a better day than any we've had since this thing started," San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender said.

President George W. Bush, who declared California's wildfires a "major disaster," was due to survey the damage with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday and check on the government's response.

"It's a sad situation out there in southern California. I fully understand that the people have got a lot of anguish in their hearts and they just need to know a lot of folks care about them," Bush said before leaving the White House.

He said he wanted to make sure California was receiving the help it needed to deal with the wildfires.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency, criticized along with Bush for a slow response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, had 1,000 people on the ground in badly scorched San Diego County.

Though fire officials were relieved that the hot, dry Santa Ana winds driving the flames had weakened, they conceded that offshore breezes replacing them presented a danger. Even those milder winds could fan the flames, being fought by some 9,000 weary men and women.

The wildfires broke out during the weekend after the Santa Ana winds began to blow and have blackened nearly 800 square miles, and injured more than 60 people, many of them firefighters.


San Diego County has suffered losses in excess of $1 billion, and three of the largest fires were still burning there, mostly in the eastern, less populated part of the county.

"This is going to be a re-entry day for many of the thousands of San Diegans that are out there," said Ron Lane, head of county emergency services. "We are absolutely thrilled."

Fewer than 1,000 people spent the night at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, compared with some 10,000 on Monday and Tuesday. The good food, showers, acupuncture and massage at evacuees' disposal might have attracted chronically homeless street people.

"You see a lot of them walking around the parking lot," evacuee Jennifer Ryan said. "They know a good thing when they see it."

One of the most critical fires was in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, where containment of the 20,000-acre (8,094-hectare) Santiago fire suffered a setback overnight.

Authorities said federal agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms joined local authorities in investigating the Santiago fire as arson.

"Those are crime scenes," said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department. He said a $70,000 reward was posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Three out of four of Los Angeles County's fires had 100 percent containment, including one in the celebrity enclave of Malibu that garnered much attention in the first days.

A risk modeling firm said insured fire losses from the fires would likely cost between $900 million and $1.6 billion.