NEW BRITAIN - After her home at 408 Arch St. was condemned last week, Kaitlyn Soderstrom thought she would be starting a new life Friday when she moved into an apartment in Hartford.
Instead, she was woken up at 6:30 a.m. by a frantic phone call from one of the other tenants, telling her the Arch Street building was on fire - with all of their belongings inside.
“All of our stuff was still in there,” the mother of four said. “We were told we’d have time to get our stuff out.”
It was a difficult end to a stressful week for Soderstrom and the other tenants of the six-unit building who had to leave quickly with a few personal items when city officials shut the building down Feb. 1.
Soderstrom and others were waiting to be taken back into the building to get their furniture and other belongings when the fire broke out early Friday. “I was watching the building burn on TV crying,” she said. “We lost everything, furniture, kids’ toys, clothes, we had a pet turtle that we couldn’t take to the hotel.”
Investigators are now trying to figure what caused the blaze.
Berger was notified Jan. 31 that the city’s Fire Marshal’s Office had confirmed that there were combustible materials on a back porch and the building would be inspected Feb. 1. Tenants were warned the day before that they would have to be out by March 1 since the city was condemning the building.
But when building and fire officials took a tour of the four-story structure Feb. 1 they quickly determined the residential units and one commercial unit would have to be shut down immediately due to hazardous conditions.
There were no working fire alarms, a private club operating in the basement, electrical and plumbing problems and sub-standard heat that forced tenants to huddle together in one room in frigid temperatures. Soderstrom’s bathroom ceiling was covered with black mold and the stairway leading to her apartment was falling apart with chunks of plaster from the ceiling piled on the landings and holes in the walls. One window had been covered with sheet rock rather than replaced with glass.
Berger was ordered by Sergio Lupo, the city’s director of health, to correct the conditions or the building would stay condemned. Berger was ordered in court to pay two previous fines issued by the Department of Licenses, Permits and Inspections for blighted conditions including an accumulation of trash and debris on the property. Berger has not responded to several interview requests.