As fire investigators probe two pre-dawn blazes, one fire-damaged building may have to come down. Another, on Ellsworth Avenue, will stand, thanks to a firewall that stopped flames from tearing through the entire building.
That was the assessment of Building Official Andy Rizzo, who inspected 255 Ellsworth Ave. after noon on Friday, about eight hours after a fire erupted in the apartment building at the corner of Whalley and Ellsworth.
It was the second of two pre-dawn fires that New Haven firefighters tackled Friday morning.
The first fire began a little after 4 a.m. at 776 Grand Ave. (pictured), according to Assistant Fire Chief Ralph Black.
The three-story brick building hard by I-91 has been a magnet for homeless people as well as the site of a double murder in 2004. Work crews have been in the building lately to get it back in shape.
That quest may now be lost.
The fire started in the front of building and spread to all three floors, according to Black.
It took around two hours to get it under control because “we had so much hidden fire” to track down in pockets of the building, Black said.
In battling the two-alarm blaze, Black said, firefighters made use of hand-held hoses as well as a “water tower”: They hooked large hose lines to a bucket in the rear of a fire truck “with guns capable of flowing 1,000 gallons a minute” to hit the building with an “elevated stream.”
No one got hurt, Black said. The building was empty at the time of the fire.
Now the department is working along with the city Building Department and Liveable City Initiative to determine whether the serious structural damage warrants demolishing the building. “There’s just so many voids and masonry issues and stability issues,” Black said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it has to come down.”
State records identify the building’s own as Victoria-Dayton Properties LLC, with Derrick Draughn listed as a “member.”
Black said he doesn’t know how the fire started. It did not immediately appear to be suspicious.
About an hour into the fire, a second call came in: A fire at 255 Ellsworth Ave., at the corner of Whalley.
The fire started on the first floor, then extended through a rear stairwell up to the third floor and the attic, according to Fire Chief Michael Grant.
Three children and 14 adults were taken out of the building, said Scott Dillon, a fire investigator with the fire department.
The department got everyone out safely. One escapee told WTNH how he “and his kids ran out into the cold, some of them barefoot and shivering.”
The Red Cross is finding the tenants other places to live. Neither the tenants nor firefighters were injured, according to Grant.
The fire did considerable damage to the first and third floors, Grant said. He said he doesn’t yet know the cause but doesn’t consider it suspicious.
The building also fronts Whalley Avenue, with stores on the first floor. The same building had a fire Dec. 12, on the commercial side; hair-drying continued at a salon as water dripped down from the ceiling (pictured). Read about that in the second half of this article.
Noach Muroff, who lives next door, said his young children woke him and his wife up at 5:30 a.m. “We think the neighbors’ house is on fire,” they said, Muroff recalled. “I smelled smoke. I jumped out of bed. Sure enough…”
Muroff (pictured) found fire trucks outside and firefighters fighting a blaze that was pumping thick dark smoke billowing out of the windows. He and his wife bundled their kids up and delivered them to a neighbor for safekeeping. Muroff said he was worried the fire might spread to his house.
Rizzo, the building official, said the building will need a new roof. The existing roof is partially collapsed. And the apartments have a lot of smoke and water damage, he said.
“This whole side can’t be occupied,” Rizzo said, pointing to the southern part of the building. Six of 10 apartments were damaged by the fire. A brick firewall prevented the fire from spreading to the rest of the building.
“I’m just happy everyone’s safe, said the owner of the building, who declined to give her name. She declined to comment further.
The owner had been renovating the building. New vinyl siding had just been added Thursday.