Tommy Marrero was fixing the rear struts on a 2004 Hyundai at Campbell Auto Center Thursday morning when he saw a fire erupt around him.
Marrero (pictured at left) and his five coworkers ran out in time to save their skin.
The body shop didn’t fare as well. The fire Thursday gutted the auto body shop, which is by the West River at 10 Orange Ave., near the West Haven line.
Six companies responded to a one-alarm fire around 11 a.m. They got the fire under control in about ten minutes, according to Fire Chief Michael Grant. They were still hosing down the shop after noon. The roof was severely damaged, as well as four or five cars and most of the interior of the shop. No one was injured. Grant said the cause remains unknown.
Because of the cold weather, water formed ice on the firefighters’ uniforms.
Tommy Marrero watched them work. He started working at the shop just three weeks ago.
He said he looked up from the Hyundai he was repairing and spotted the flames in a corner of the shop Thursday morning. Four or five cars were in the shop, he said. The fire didn’t appear to come from any of them, he said.
Thick smoke quickly filled the shop.
“Let’s go! Let’s get out of here!” he recalled telling his colleagues. So they ran for it.
“Everyone got out safe, thanks to God,” he said afterward. “It was an inferno inside.”
Outside, he heard car windows blowing out and gas tanks exploding from inside the shop, he said. The car he had been working on crashed down to the floor from the lift. He said stands to lose thousands of dollars of his personal tools in the fire. He planned to return later to see if any are salvageable.
Larry Young (at left in photo), a youth worker who served a stint as a part-time employee at Hillhouse High School, showed up to the scene around noon. Young had left his white 1993 Nissan 300ZX at the shop for repairs. He said his cousin had called to tell him the shop went up in flames.
He walked to a chain-link fence where mechanics had gathered to watch a ladder truck tackle the last embers. He learned that his car, nicknamed “Pearlie,” was in the lot and escaped damage.
The 2,200-square-foot brick building was built in 1900, according to land records. It is owned by Luigi Caserta of Orange Avenue Holdings LLC.
Traffic was rerouted along Route 1, creating traffic delays in the area of Ella Grasso Boulevard.
At noon, firefighters continued hosing down the roof to extinguish any remaining flames hidden by the collapsed roof. A rainbow appeared in the mist.