New London — A fire that displaced a total of 19 residents, including an 18-day-old infant, from two homes on Grand Street Saturday started in the back portion of a sober house and spread to the house next door, Fire Marshal Calvin Darrow said.
Residents at both homes, at 11 and 15 Grand St., made it out safely, but Darrow said Saturday evening that the two houses are "uninhabitable."
"They're going to have to start from scratch and rebuild. The buildings are condemned and we had all power, gas and water shut off to the buildings," Darrow said.
Darrow advised against letting the residents return to retrieve their possessions but said that once the fire department leaves the scene, it is up to the building owners' discretion to allow residents back into the houses.
The fire was reported shortly before 4 p.m. and was extinguished within 30 minutes. The owners of 15 Grand St., a sober house called Joey's Place, are listed in city property records as Joel and Nora Dimaapi of Mystic. The Dimaapis are not listed in the phone book and could not be reached for comment.
The two-family home at 11 Grand St. sustained extensive damage to its roof and one of its sides. The property is not listed in city records under that address, but a resident said five people lived in the two apartments there.
"I was sitting in my living room and smelled smoke," said the woman, who asked not to be identified. "I saw the blaze through the window and called 911. I grabbed my baby and left."
The woman, her son and her boyfriend lived on the first floor of 11 Grand St. Sitting on her neighbor's porch in nothing but a robe, she held the baby close and awaited word from the American Red Cross as to where her family would be staying for the night.
Sue Rochester-Bolen, senior director of emergency services for the Connecticut chapter of the Red Cross, said Saturday night that the organization made sure each displaced resident had a place to stay, whether at local motels or with family and friends.
"They'll have access to food and clothes, as well as care for any medical needs they may have, and we'll continue to work with them until they're relocated," Rochester-Bolen said.
"I didn't believe it until I saw the flames'
Residents of Joey's Place stood across the street Saturday afternoon hoping to be able to retrieve their possessions and pet mice and lizards.
"We were sitting on the front porch and some lady came up and said the house was on fire. I didn't believe it until I saw the flames, they were so high," said Eric Krone Sr., who lived on the second floor.
He said he smelled smoke but thought it was from the cigarettes he and a neighbor were smoking on the front porch.
"I used to be with the Red Cross for years. I used to come to the fires. This is my first time as a fire victim," Krone said.
Neighbors offered the fire victims use of their cellphones, a place on their couch and clothing.
One man, who lives on nearby Prest Street, came to the fire with a pitcher of water. He had plastic cups in his backpack and offered water to the displaced residents.
"It's hot outside. Why not?" Jared Jackson said, pouring water into a cup for a man who was visibly shaken up. A few moments later, Jackson offered that same man his flip-flops, as he had run out of the home without shoes on.
Chris Salla, who lived at 15 Grand St., was visiting a friend when the fire started. He said he arrived home shortly after the fire began.
"Coming home to this doesn't make me happy, this isn't a way to spend such a beautiful Saturday," Salla said. "Everything I own is in the house. Everything is probably gone."
Salla said he needed to call his father but couldn't because his cellphone was in his apartment. He hadn't memorized his father's number.
Ron Skurat lived on the third floor of the sober house.
"I didn't smell the smoke until I opened my door. I did what any modern guy would do, I grabbed my cellphone and my laptop and ran for the door," he said.
Fire departments from New London, Waterford, Mohegan and the sub base responded to the fire, which is still under investigation.