Nine Apartments At Wauregan damaged When Sprinklers Go Off

Norwich — Residents in nine apartments at the recently refurbished Wauregan Hotel were displaced Monday when water from the sprinkler system damaged their apartments.

The damage was caused by two separate incidents. At 2:30 Monday afternoon, a grease fire occurred on the stove in Apartment 403. The person cooking tried to spray water from the faucet spray nozzle onto the fire, which caused the grease to splatter and the fire to flare. The sprinkler system activated and immediately extinguished the fire, Fire Marshal James Roberts said.

But three other apartment units in the stories directly below where the fire started received water damage. When fire officials shut off the sprinkler system to prevent further damage, they learned a sprinkler pipe had burst at the opposite side of the five-story restored historic hotel. That break caused water to cascade through five apartments and flood hallways, common areas and the basement boiler room, fire officials said.

Occupants of the nine affected apartments could not return Monday night, but city officials allowed most of the remaining apartments to be reoccupied, with two firefighters on duty patrolling the hallways as crews were expected to work into the night to find and repair the pipe breakage, reset the fire alarm, check electrical systems and reactivate the sprinkler system.

Residents of six apartments were put up in a hotel Monday night, according to Gene Arters, emergency management director for the city of Norwich. They were expected to be able to go home today, he said.

Sixty-five of the building's 70 apartments are leased. Most of the apartments received minor water damage, but Assistant Building Official Joseph East said the units had to be checked for electrical safety. A portion of a ceiling collapsed in one apartment.

Sunny Low, wife of building superintendent Ted Low, said the building was evacuated within minutes. Sunny Low keeps a list of all tenants with special needs, such as those who use wheelchairs, and all were accounted for. She said a firefighter assisted one resident to evacuate.

Dozens of people spent the first 90 minutes after the fire milling about on the sidewalk, some in stocking feet, others carrying small pets in crates.

The owners of the Wauregan Café evacuated at first, but owner Alex Bekiaris returned and offered coffee, hot chocolate and sandwiches to residents and Wauregan Hotel staff standing on the sidewalk.

After firefighters cleaned up water from the lobby floor — except for occasional drips from a beam overhead — Red Cross officials ushered tenants into the lobby and told them a temporary shelter had been established a short walk from the Wauregan at the Salvation Army building at 2 Cliff St.

There, the Salvation Army provided meals and Red Cross officials took information from tenants.

Bruce Becker, president of Becker and Becker Associates, which developed the Wauregan, toured the building with fire and building officials. Becker said he appreciated how fire and police responded so quickly to the incident. Becker recalled that the Wauregan had a history of fires prior to the $19 million renovation that converted it into 70 apartments.

“This is probably the best fire the Wauregan has had,” Becker said. “I toured the building. I was pleased to see the damage is isolated. There is no evidence of smoke or fire damage anywhere.”
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