Published August 25. 2014 11:05AM Updated August 26. 2014 12:57PM
Norwich — The Salvation Army will have to temporarily relocate and replace nearly a ton of food after a Sunday fire damaged its Main Street building.
Assistant Building Official Greg Arpin said Monday the building has not been condemned, but officials at the Salvation Army know they cannot operate out of the building until it has been cleaned by a service professional and an electrician ensures that everything is working properly.
Norwich Salvation Army Capt. Jerry Uttley said the service agency likely will have to replace about one ton of food, a refrigerator, freezer, two desks, a desktop computer, phones, a laptop computer, a copy machine, a table and chairs.
Debbie Kievits, coordinator of the The Greater Norwich Area Anti-Bullying Coalition, which is housed on the building’s second floor, said donations of food and offers of help to replace the Salvation Army’s office equipment and supplies have started coming in.
“The Salvation Army is always there, the first ones helping people in a disaster,” she said, “so it’s time for the community to step up and help them.”
The Norwich Salvation Army recently celebrated its 130th anniversary, and Uttley said the agency has been in the 262 Main St. building, which it owns, since 1965.
Uttley said the Salvation Army will remain in business. He said he has received two offers of temporary space, and is leaning toward moving into the ground floor of the United Congregational Church at 87 Broadway.
The Salvation Army’s food pantry usually is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Uttley hopes to replenish part of the supply with items from the regional United Way Food Center in New London in time to distribute by Thursday.
The cause of a fire that damaged the rear of the first floor of the 262 Main St. building is under investigation, a fire official said Monday.
Fire Chief Kenneth Scandariato said the fire was reported at 12:54 p.m. He said the city’s fire department quickly responded. When they arrived, there was no fire showing. When they forced the doors open, however, there was heavy and dense smoke on all of the building’s three floors.
Uttley and his 2½-year-old son, Jonathan, were the only ones in the building Sunday when the fire alarm went off. Uttley grabbed his son and left the building.
No one else was reported in the building, but as a precaution firefighters searched it for people.
Firefighters found the fire in a small kitchen in the rear of the building and were able to extinguish it, preventing it from spreading to the upper floors. The fire was under control within 40 minutes.
No injuries were reported.
In additional to the city, the Mohegan Tribal FAST team also responded.
Uttley entered the building Monday afternoon, but power was still off and fire officials asked him to avoid the damaged rear first-floor area.
The first-floor office, worship center, Sunday school area and food and clothing pantries sustained fire, smoke and water damage.
Materials for the annual Salvation Army Christmas kettle collection drive were stored in the basement, which sustained heavy smoke and water damage. Uttley hasn’t yet been in the basement, but he speculated that the signature red coats likely are ruined.
As crews from Service Master were preparing to start cleaning the fire-damaged areas Monday, Uttley was able to dig out a portable “Salvation Army” sign to take to the group’s temporary home.
A full schedule of fall evening activities — including music nights, youth activities, a women’s ministry and men’s fellowship — was expected to start Sept. 10. Uttley said that could be delayed a bit, but he hopes to keep up all activities.
Arpin said if the insurance company acts quickly, the Salvation Army should be up and running again in a few weeks.
“We owe these people to be as helpful as we can,” he said. “They are usually the ones that respond to a fire and now they need our help. I hope the community rallies behind them.”