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Norwich — For the second time in a week, city firefighters battled a blaze at a vacant home — this time at 11 Lake St. Thursday night.
Fire Chief Kenneth Scandariato said he doesn't believe the city has a serial arsonist on its hands, but he does acknowledge the city has a lot of "fire activity." He said local and state fire marshals and police are actively investigating the cause.
The chief speculated that the increase in foreclosures and homelessness have contributed to the rise in fires. About 119 properties in Norwich — or one of every 786 — are under various stages of foreclosure, although not all of them are vacant, according to RealtyTrac.
Battalion Chief Brad Keltonic said the fire was reported at 11:25 p.m. Thursday. When firefighters got to the scene, heavy smoke and fire were coming from the second and third floors.
On Monday, city firefighters battled a fire at a vacant house at 7-9 Oak St. That fire damaged two other houses and displaced 27 people. Just 250 yards separate those houses and the scene of Friday's fire.
Police Sgt. Peter Camp said it was too soon to say whether the two fires are connected. Camp said Friday morning that police obtained a search warrant so they can enter the house to investigate.
Keltonic said firefighters used three hand lines to fight the Lake Street blaze from the interior of the house. He said he called in a second alarm to get more assistance to fight the fire. The East Great Plain and Laurel Hill fire departments responded to the scene.
No injuries were reported.
Keltonic said most of the damage was contained to the interior. Fire damage, however, was visible Friday on the rear, where porches on the back are charred and windows are blown out.
There are no houses next door to 11 Lake St. Nilda Maestre, who lives behind the house at 66 Boswell Ave., said she was saying her prayers when her daughter told her about the fire.
"We immediately got out of the house because we weren't sure if our house would catch on fire," Maestre said in Spanish. "You could see a lot of fire and smoke coming from the top floor."
She said the house has been vacant for at least five or six months.
"It's scary to think that someone could be doing this on purpose," she said.
Land records show that Jean Corrielus LLC of Brooklyn, N.Y., owns the home.
Director of Inspections James Troeger said there have been issues in the past with tenants and upgrades at the property and that it was on the city's list of properties to be foreclosed. He said the house would be condemned.
Fire officials said the cause of the Oak Street fire is still undetermined, pending further studies.
On March 22, fire crews quickly knocked down a fire at Reliance House at 124 Laurel Hill Ave. The fire was later ruled an arson. No arrests have been made.
Since 2005, there have been 17 arson-related convictions in Norwich, Scandariato said.
"We do get a lot of convictions because we professionally and scientifically investigate each and every fire," Scandariato said. "We process the scene carefully so when there is an arrest, we won't have any problems."