Published November 21. 2013 6:00PM Updated November 22. 2013 12:11AM
Montville — Phil "Moose" Russo paced back and forth across his driveway Thursday evening as firefighters tore at the glowing embers that used to compose the walls of his barn.
No injuries were reported in the blaze that consumed the building, but Russo ticked off the names of the destroyed show cars as if they were family members — a '67 Ford Mustang, a '67 Plymouth Belvedere, an '86 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS and a custom three-window coupe he had been spending much of his time working on lately.
Neighbor Tina McInerney said the coupe was Russo's "baby."
"Everything on that was made by hand," she said of the coupe. "It's a shame." She said the meticulously maintained cars often could be seen at shows across the region.
Russo said the cars were insured. He said the fire also melted his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a riding lawn tractor and a wealth of welding gear.
The fire, outside the two homes at 554A and 554B Route 82, was first reported at 6 p.m. at about the time Russo had returned from "out back," where, he said, he had been hunting the coyotes that had been bothering his cats. He said he heard a loud "pop" and his dog "going nuts."
"I looked out the door and everything was orange," he said.
Russo said the barn, built in 1949 of native wood, went up in flames in a matter of seconds.
Oakdale Deputy Fire Chief Bryce Wilkens said the barn was burning brightly when firefighters arrived. The roof already had collapsed.
Numerous surrounding towns were called in to help with a tanker shuttle, the typical way to get water to an area that lacks hydrants. Tankers retrieved water from a hydrant on the Norwich and Bozrah town line and from Oxoboxo Lake. The tankers filled portable reservoirs set up at the end of Russo's driveway and pumped up to an awaiting engine.
Route 82 was shut down just east of the intersection with Route 163 for more than three hours during the operation.
Wilkens said firefighters did all they could to stop the fire while coping with the added challenge of several oxygen and acetylene tanks inside. Luckily, he said, the tanks were close enough to an open door to douse them with water, cool them off and pull them out.
Wilkens said they were never without water, crediting the mutual aid system and the work of firefighters.