Oakdale blaze underscores water woes
Montville - A fire that destroyed a family's home in Oakdale early Thursday has raised anew questions about the capacity to fight fires in certain areas of town.
The family at 19 John W. Luty Drive narrowly escaped the blaze with only the clothes on their backs.
Firefighters were transporting water to the scene Thursday morning because the neighborhood has no fire hydrants. Danielle Butzgy, who lived in the home with her husband, Karl, their three children and two dogs, said that at one point firefighters seemed to have had the fire under control before they ran out of water.
Butzgy said it took what felt like 20 minutes for the water to get going again, but by then it was too late; the house was consumed by flames.
Everyone in the house, and the pets, managed to escape.
"I know we live in a rural area," said Butzgy, who is co-owner of Pa's Pizza and General Store, "(but) there has to be a better system in place. The whole bottom floor was still standing, but they ran out of water and now it's gone. It's all gone."
The official cause of the fire was undetermined but was not deemed suspicious, said Fire Marshal Raymond Occhialini, adding that careless smoking is a possible cause. Cigarette butts were found in charred mulch in the cracks of the front porch floor, he said.
Occhialini, who lives within walking distance of the Butzgy home, was the first to report the fire, shortly after 5:30 a.m. He said the area has a "tanker task force assignment," an initial crew and truck with 1,000 gallons of water that arrives on scene to try to knock down a fire. Along with the Oakdale Fire Co., fire departments from as far off as Colchester and Bozrah were on the scene Thursday.
Acting Oakdale Fire Chief Bryce Wilkens said crews had to set up a tanker shuttle system to bring water from Oxoboxo Lake. He said eight tankers were involved in the task.
"The fire was never out," Wilkens said. "The water pushed back the flames, but there was fire inside the house and in the rear."
Wilkens said that when crews arrived on the scene, fire had already engulfed the front of the house and was extending through the roof. Ultimately, the entire two floors on the left side of the house were burned to the ground. All that remained standing was the shell of the garage.
"The thing is, most of Montville does not have hydrants," Occhialini said. "It's going to take you a good 20 minutes to get your water supply established. I don't know of any simple solution."
Oakdale has been hit hard in recent years by several fires. In 2010, a fire on Park Avenue Extension destroyed a single-family home and, weeks later, another fire leveled the former Oakdale Plaza.
The plaza fire was ruled arson. The plaza's owners, who were uninsured, recently filed a lawsuit against the town and the regional Southeastern Connecticut Water Authority claiming that both the town and the authority - which owns fire hydrants in the area designed for cleaning water systems but not fighting fires - were negligent and failed to provide sufficient water supply.
There are several other water systems with various owners in different areas of the town, such as Oakdale Heights. The only town-owned water system runs primarily along Route 32, and it would cost millions to adapt the system to reach areas such as Oakdale.
Timothy May, chairman of the town's Water Pollution Control Authority, said Thursday the town needs to revisit the issue of fire protection. While he said the town's firefighters do a great job working with the resources they have, he argued for a better system.
"It would be fundamentally better if we had a really good fire hydrant to attach to," May said. "The pumper system they have works. It's a good system, but I think we could do better."
The town has hired a consultant to compile a public-safety study that, in part, will detail the town's fire suppression effectiveness. Occhialini said the study will be ready in July.
Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel Jr. said Thursday he would look into Danielle Butzgy's allegation that there was inadequate water to fight the fire at her home.
"After each fire we go over the incident to see what could have been done different," McDaniel said. "The problem with this development is that there is no water supply."
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