NEW BRITAIN - Firefighters spent hours battling a large blaze at a recently condemned Arch Street building Friday as investigators waited nearby to get inside to search for the cause of the fire.
Residential tenants of 408 Arch St. were forced to leave the property Feb. 1 with their clothing and little else as city officials shut the building down. Conditions were unfit for habitation, the department said, due to electrical hazards, insufficient heat and non-working fire alarms.
Dispatchers received an anonymous call at about 4:35 a.m. Friday reporting the building was on fire, interim Fire Chief Peter Margentino said.
Firefighters arrived to find flames coming out of the basement and first floor, he said. The balloon frame construction of the four-story residential and commercial building allowed the flames to travel up through the gap in the walls to the attic. “The fire got a head start,” Margentino said. “It got into the interior walls and we were chasing it throughout the building.”
Firefighters had to leave the building when the fire reached the attic, the interim chief said.
One firefighter was treated for a medical condition at the scene and then brought to a hospital for observation. He has since been released, Margentino said. A second firefighter injured his ankle and sought treatment after work.
Flames could still be seen licking the roof at 7:30 a.m. as firefighters on ladder trucks continued to pour water into the building. The fire was brought under control at about 10 a.m. The last of the hot spots were extinguished by noon, Margentino said.
Dispatchers said the smoke from the fire could be seen as far as Broad Street.
Firefighters from West Hartford, Hartford and Bristol were called in to man New Britain stations as local firefighters battled the flames.
Mayor Erin Stewart called it ironic that the blaze occurred in the same building that had been condemned by city officials last week in a Facebook post.
Property owner Saul Berger was forced to pay the tenants a settlement Monday so they could find new permanent lodgings, officials confirmed. Berger was also supposed to pay the hotel bills for residents displaced by the condemnation, but city officials had to scramble Saturday after his credit card was denied and the hotel was threatening to put people out on the street. City money was used to pay the $525 hotel bill to keep residents housed over the weekend, according to documents provided by the city’s Corporation Counsel Friday. Berger has repeatedly not returned calls from The Herald since the building was condemned.
Prior to the condemnation, tenants were living in squalid conditions with deteriorating plaster falling from the ceiling of the front stairwell and mold in the bathrooms. Many said during frigid temperatures they had to huddle in one room of their apartments to stay warm because the heating to the building couldn’t keep up.
The building, which contained six apartments and three commercial spaces, was empty of tenants other than a barbershop and small bodega on the first floor when the fire broke out.
The electrical circuit breakers and gas had been shut off to all the residential units as of 10 a.m. Thursday, city officials said. “A representative of the property owner had changed the padlocks and all the units were boarded up,” said city Building and Health Department head Sergio Lupo. “No one had access to the residential units.”
State authorities and New Britain detectives are now working with the city’s Fire Marshal’s Office and the Connecticut State Police Fire and Explosion Unit to find the cause of the blaze. Investigators were waiting for a signed search warrant before entering the building Friday afternoon, Margentino said.