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After Bridgeport blaze, residents look to start over

Updated 11:10 pm, Wednesday, September 18, 2013

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  • The scene following a massive fire on Putnam Street Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. Photo: Connecticut Post
    The scene following a massive fire on Putnam Street Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. Photo: Connecticut Post

 

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BRIDGEPORT -- The raging fire that damaged four buildings on the city's East Side on Tuesday caused no deaths or life-threatening injuries. But as residents returned to the scene Wednesday, it became apparent how much the blaze had disrupted their lives.

In the rush to escape before roaring flames consumed the white, three-story structure at 591 Brooks St. early Tuesday, Ella Elliott left all of her belongings behind in her second-floor apartment.

"It scared me," she said. "I left everything -- my cellphone, my keys, my ID. All I could think was, `Get out.' "

Elliott's brother had to help her get her car started because she didn't have the key. For now, she and other families displaced by the fire are staying at a hotel in Stratford.

Elliott hasn't been allowed back inside her building. It was so heavily damaged that the city has ordered it razed by next week.

Three other buildings were damaged in the inferno, but the owners and insurance companies will decide whether they are repaired or demolished.

The doors and first-floor windows of Elliott's building have been boarded up. The ground near the front steps was littered with burned wood and belongings of families who evacuated -- a winter boot, some children's shoes, adult sandals and a doll with white clothes that had been grayed by soot and smoke.

Yet even as she surveyed the burned-out building she used to call home, Elliott seemed resolved to get back to her normal life. She's looking to move to another building on Brooks Street, and she is eager to get back to her job as a school bus driver.

"I woke up to a nightmare," she said. "But I've got to suck it up and get back to work."

Cleaning up and moving on seemed to be the order of the day for many on Brooks Street. Some residents returned to collect their belongings from one of the less damaged buildings. Others tried to get their cars moved, and one neighbor said he had spent four hours hosing debris out of the street.

Emergency crews did return to the scene of the fire Wednesday morning after light smoke was reported at one of the homes. But the engine companies were called back a few minutes later and found no fire.

Officials have said three people were treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation. Deputy Fire Chief Ismael Pomales said the fire likely started in the kitchen of one of the apartments at 591 Brooks St. Several residents said the cause likely was burning food on a stove.

"I'm so thankful to be out of there and that nobody really got hurt," Elliott said Wednesday.

Mike Vincelli, a Disaster Action Team leader with the American Red Cross, said 27 people had been displaced by the fire and were staying at the hotel in Stratford.

Fire Department spokesman William Kaempffer said city building inspectors had checked 591 Brooks St. and, based on the damage, issued an emergency demolition order. The owner of the building will cover the costs of the demolition and is soliciting bids, Kaempffer said.

The building to the left, at 585 Brooks St., was damaged, but did not meet the criteria for a city demolition order, Kaempffer said. He said the demolition is expected to happen by early next week, but it might take longer.

The city does have a process to seize the buildings and run the demolition if the building isn't taken down soon, but Kaempffer said the city wants to see the owners make an effort to do it themselves.

"We want them to rebuild and want to work with them," he said. "We do not just want to see the building languish."

Staff writer Frank Juliano contributed to this report.