Fire causes multiple explosions at Boyd's Used Auto Parts in Norwich

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Norwich — An accidental fire at Boyd’s Used Auto Parts caused multiple explosions and sent a massive plume of smoke into the air but resulted in no injuries, according to Norwich fire Chief Kenneth Scandariato.

The fire was called in about 3:36 p.m. Thursday, he said. It involved 30 to 35 cars and took down a building that contained salvaged auto parts. But he expected the business to carry on Friday.

“It looks to be an accidental fire from a mechanical operation that extended to gasoline,” Scandariato said about 5:24 p.m.

Numerous fire departments were called to battle the blaze at 133 Corning Road, near the Preston town border. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was on scene managing plastics, acid and oil contamination, Scandariato said. The smoke could be seen as far away as New London and other points along the southeastern shoreline.

A Boyd's employee, who did not wish to be identified, said the fire came from the process of taking gas out of cars before they're crushed. He said all the workers ran to get water and fire extinguishers but the blaze just got worse and worse.

Norwich Firefighters Local 892 posted on the union's Facebook page that hazardous flammable liquids were involved. Fire officials were evacuating residents in the Corning Road area, using Bishop Early Learning Center as a temporary shelter. School was over for the day and no students remained there, Superintendent Abby Dolliver said. Red Cross of Southeastern Connecticut staffed the temporary shelter, with Norwich school administrators also on hand.

Norwich police later said only eight people were evacuated, even though the evacuation site had been set up, as fire command ultimately made the call to have people shelter in place.

The Pierre family, mother, father and three children, live across the street from Boyd’s. The parents asked not to identify family members by first names. One son arrived home after school, and within minutes he heard explosions and looked out the window and saw flames and thick smoke. One car was on fire as the smoke rose, he said.

Then the power went out; Norwich Public Utilities had cut off electricity to 73 homes along Corning Road to assist firefighters.

His mother picked up his sister, who stayed late at Norwich Free Academy to take a make-up test, and drove home to see the billowing smoke on the East Side. As she approached her road, she saw the firetrucks turn down the same road.

“I was so scared it was my house,” the NFA student said. Her mother said she didn’t think it was their home, because she could see the smoke from a distance on her way home from work in Stonington.

The mother said she could not reach their home because the road was closed and clogged with firetrucks and hoses. Her son walked to the car, and the family spent much of the afternoon at the temporary shelter at the Bishop Early Learning Center at the corner of Hamilton and Stanton avenues.

Brenda and Larry Foley at 165 Corning Road left home at 3:10 p.m. to visit a family member in Norwichtown. Larry Foley’s cellphone rang with family members calling to tell him about the fire. The couple stood outside Bishop wondering when they could get home to their two Chihuahuas and one cat.

“We missed it by minutes,” Brenda Foley said.

Dolliver said several students who live on Corning Road could not be brought home after school and initially were brought back to their schools, as school officials contacted parents. The students were taken to Kelly Middle School, Teachers Memorial Sixth Grade Academy and Wequonnoc School with school staff, Dolliver said.

Some parents picked up their children at the three schools where they were brought, and the final two students were bused to Bishop to be picked up. The temporary shelter at Bishop closed at 6:45 p.m. after the final two parents picked up their children.

All roads were reopened and power restored to the area before 8 p.m., allowing the displaced residents to return to their homes.

e.moser@theday.com

c.bessette@theday.com

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