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Norwich house fire displaces several tenants; firefighters suffer heat issues

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Norwich — A three-alarm fire caused heavy damage to a four-family house at 57 Prospect St. in the city's Greeneville section Monday, displacing several residents and sending two firefighters to the hospital with heat issues.

Several firefighters from different departments suffered heat problems fighting the blaze, which was reported at 4:13 p.m. No residents were injured, Norwich acting Fire Chief Keith Wucik said. Later Monday, City Manager John Salomone told the City Council the two hospitalized firefighters received intravenous fluids and had recovered.

Third-floor tenant Kathleen Morgan, 35, stood across Prospect Street watching as thick black smoke billowed from the building, and firefighters doused water from atop a tower ladder onto the roof. Morgan and her roommate, Olivia Iannacone, 23, were at work at the Mohegan Sun Casino when their landlord called and told them the house was on fire.

The landlord rescued one of Morgan’s cats, but couldn’t find the second cat, named Ruby after Morgan’s mother. As she watched, Morgan choked back tears as she asked neighbors and firefighters walking past if they saw the shy gray cat with white feet and a white nose.

At 6:30 p.m., Morgan ran down Hickory Street to a firefighter who handed a surprisingly calm Ruby to her. A firefighter found Ruby hiding in a third-floor closet.

First-floor tenant Donna Davis, 57, a disabled Army veteran, was home at the time. She said she heard the fire alarm in the hallway and checked the window and saw smoke. She hurriedly got dressed, knocked on neighbors’ doors and yelled before leaving the house. Davis said she knew some of her neighbors were at work and at least one was out of town.

Tenant Nalani Jean-Josevh lives in the first-floor apartment on the Hickory Street side and was home with several extended family members visiting. Her uncle said he smelled fire. All family members went outside and saw the porch was on fire. Jean-Josevh said the fire appeared to be rising from the basement.

The Southeastern Connecticut chapter of the American Red Cross assisted displaced tenants. The total number of occupants was not available Monday night.

Wucik said the fire started on the Hickory Street side porch of the large, ornate circa-1920 house. By the time firefighters arrived, the fire had climbed a wall, got into the second floor and up into the roof.

“That’s what happens with balloon-frame construction,” Wucik said.

Firefighters broke open second and third-floor windows, including small round porthole windows and large arched third-floor windows to get at the fire. After the blaze was extinguished, firefighters continued to pull away siding and wood framing to expose hotspots of flame and smoke.

Wucik said it was too soon to assess the extent of the damage, but all three floors had water damage, as firefighters had to douse the flames on the roof from above.

In all nine fire departments responded, including the city’s paid department  and all five of its Norwich volunteer departments. The New London Fire Department initially was called to provide a Rapid Intervention Team but ended up being used to help fight the fire, Wucik said. The Mohegan Tribal and Naval Sub Base Rapid Intervention Teams responded. The local Salvation Army canteen provided water to firefighters on the scene.

c.bessette@theday.com

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