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    Monday, May 20, 2024

    Fire leaves significant damage in upper floors of downtown New London building

    A Waterford Fire Department Ladder 15 firefighter sprays water at the scene of 2-alarm fire Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, at 133-137 Bank Street in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London — A two-alarm fire at 133-137 Bank St. late Wednesday morning sent flames and thick smoke shooting through the roof, blocked roads and snarled traffic in the immediate area as blue skies in downtown New London filled with thick black smoke.

    The fire, which started shortly before noon and took about 90 minutes to knock down, was stopped before spreading to other buildings. There were no injuries, according to the New London Fire Department.

    Dozens of firefighters battled the blaze for hours, climbing staircases on neighboring buildings, being lifted high into the sky on ladders and aiming multiple hoses on the flames as water poured down walls and created puddles inches deep on the ground.

    The 133-137 Bank St. building, formerly Jason's Furniture, most recently was owned by Bill Cornish and home to an indoor yard sale. Cornish sold the building last year for $650,000 to High Tide Capital, which plans to renovate the building with retail space at street level and upscale apartments on the upper levels. The indoor yard sale business has moved to Eugene O'Neill Drive.

    Cornish said Wednesday the building was empty except for some remnants of the former flea market on the first floor.

    As smoke billowed from the building behind him, New London Fire Department Chief Tom Curcio said that at least five workers were inside the structure when the fire broke out and some were originally reported as being trapped inside.

    When firefighters arrived at the scene, he said, all of the workers had safely escaped the blaze and there were no other occupants.

    No injuries were reported but several ambulances and volunteers from the American Red Cross and Salvation Army remained on scene.

    New London Fire Marshal Vernon Skau said the workers were doing demolition work in the building.

    Curcio said that when he arrived on scene, “there was a lot of fire billowing out of the back of the building,” which faces Eugene O'Neill Drive.

    The building’s rear is decorated with a large, brightly colored mural depicting a Sasquatch-like beast gripping a branch with a bright green forest of trees in the background and an orange fox poking through to the left. By early afternoon, the top of the building was charred black, destroying many of the painted trees and bright blue sky in the mural. A section of bricks now is missing near the charred top of the rear of the building.

    Firefighters were aiming most of their water toward the part of the building that features the mural, the tallest part of the structure. They were fighting the blaze on the roof of the top story for hours, but hadn’t been able to tackle the flames burning through the other side of the building, a white brick structure with a faded red and white sign that reads “antiques” on the back.

    Firefighters originally went into that part of the building, Curcio said, but were pushed out by heavy fire and hadn’t been able to reenter.

    “We’re having trouble getting to that portion of the fire because the roof has collapsed and the third floor is compromised,” he said. “We got all of our crews out shortly after they went in because it was too dangerous. Fire is still all around the elevator shaft so once that is secured, we’ll send people back in.”

    Firefighters were on the roof of that part of the building, snaking hoses down the side, while on the opposite side of the structure, firefighters smashed open windows with axes, revealing flames and clouds of steam and smoke.

    Dozens of people gathered on sidewalks throughout downtown, peering up at the smoke and flames. Bright yellow hoses snaked down Golden Street and Bank Street, parallel to police line tape that roped off the area. Police cars blocked entrances to Bank Street and Golden Street, rerouting traffic.

    New London resident Mario Dampolo was at the train station late Wednesday morning when he saw a lot of smoke. When he came closer, he saw that the front of the building on Bank Street was not as bad. But in the back of the building, he saw flames starting from the third floor.

    Dampolo, whose sister had died in a fire, said watching the Wednesday fire brought back those memories. If anyone was inside, he said, “I just pray they made it out safely.”

    New London resident Peter Leibert was having coffee with a friend late Wednesday morning at Muddy Waters when he started smelling smoke. When the friend left to go to a meeting, Leibert went outside and saw firetrucks. He realized he couldn’t move his car, which was parked at the front of the building, but he said there’s not much he could do about that as he watched the firefighters working from the back of the building.

    Rob Bernardo, owner of Right Path Organic Café in the next-door building, had seen from the back of his restaurant that people were standing outside and taking photos, but initially didn’t think much of it. But then manager Stephanie Strate pointed out that there were fire engines on Bank Street.

    Bernardo went out the front door of the restaurant and saw all the smoke, then went out the back and saw flames in the next-door building. Firefighters told everybody in the restaurant and the apartments above it to evacuate.

    Bernardo said early Wednesday afternoon that he was waiting until the coast was clear to go back inside.

    “They did a great job,” he said around 12:20 p.m. “I mean they were on scene fast putting it out but there’s still some hot spots, there’s still flaming in a few places up there.”

    The NLFD was assisted by several local departments, including Waterford, Poquonnock Bridge and submarine base, and ambulances from Groton and Waterford.

    The streets in the area had been reopened but crews still were on scene about 4:30 p.m. and part of the sidewalk on Bank Street remained roped off with yellow tape. The front door of the former flea market was shattered, with remnants of the former shop, including a wooden table, a white mirror and a car seat, lying on the sidewalk.

    The upper floors of the building had significant damage throughout, the city fire department said. The cause of the fire was under investigation and still undetermined as of 8 p.m. Wednesday.

    Day Staff Writers Kimberly Drelich, Sten Spinella, Claire Bessette and Greg Smith contributed to this story.

    t.hartz@theday.com

    Firefighters from Navy Submarine Base Fire District tower 65 spray water from the rear of 133-137 Bank St. at the scene of the 2-alarm fire Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London firefighters spray water inside the top floor of a building Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, while at the scene of the 2-alarm fire at 133-137 Bank St. in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Firefighters spray water at 133-137 Bank St. from a fire escape of a neighboring building during the a 2-alarm fire Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Firefighters from Navy Submarine Base Fire District tower 65 spray water from the rear of 133-137 Bank St. at the scene of the 2-alarm fire Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    A firefighter with Waterford Ladder 15 sprays water from the rear of the building, at the scene of a 2-alarm fire Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, at 133-137 Bank St. in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Waterford Ladder 15 sprays water from the rear while at the scene of the 2-alarm fire Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, at 133-137 Bank St. in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London and Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department firefighters at the scene of a 2-alarm fire Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, at 133-137 Bank St. in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Fire crews on the scene of a building fire on lower Bank St. in New London, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (Taylor Hartz/The Day)
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    Fire crews on the scene of a building fire on lower Bank St. in New London, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (Taylor Hartz/The Day)
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    Fire crews on the scene of a building fire on lower Bank St. in New London, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (Taylor Hartz/The Day)
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    A multi-alarm fire at 133-137 Bank St. late Wednesday morning snarled traffic and blocked roads in the immediate area.

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