Massive fire that ripped through abandoned, historic Enfield mill appears to have been started in container; investigation ongoing

Hartford

ENFIELD, Conn. (WTNH) — The fire that ripped through an old factory in Enfield Wednesday appears to have been started in a container, according to the Thompsonville Fire Marshal.

“The area of origin has been determined. Its nature is incendiary but the investigation is on-going on how and why it was set,” Thompsonville Fire Marshal Scott Ellis said.

The fire began on the third floor in the south end of the building. There had been no electricity or gas to the building for years.

The building had been boarded up, but some boards were removed allowing someone to access the building before the fire.

It appears the fire began in a container but how it was set and why (cooking, warmth, or something else) is still under investigation.

Thursday officials reported, accidental means ruled out but incendiary in nature however investigation on-going and yet to determine if criminal in nature or not.

A weather event was also ruled out.


Firefighters for all of Wednesday were on the scene of a massive fire in Enfield. It totally gutted an old factory and stopped service on Amtrak lines. But the site is much more than an abandoned building.

But this isn’t any old mill. The town now owns the property on North River Street, paying just under $200,000 with help from the state and high hopes for the space.

They were first looking to convert it into a new train station. The mayor says that the new plan, however, was to make it a mixed-use space comprised of shops, possibly apartments, restaurant/brewery, etc. 

But it was all hands on deck in Thompsonville after the call came in at 6:43 a.m. Wednesday.

“I heard a boom, and I jumped out of bed, and I looked out the window,” said neighbor Caroline Covtella.

Covtella believes that possibly teens gained entry to the building in the past. She says she warned city officials several months ago.

“I was hoping there were no kids in there because there was a breach in the building, and they knew about it and kids went in there,” said Covtella. “It used to have windows now they’re all boarded up. But they re-boarded some of them this week.”

Amtrak says its trains heading through Providence on Wednesday experienced delays due to fire activity on the tracks. Train tracks next to the building were blocked off until Thursday morning.

“They feel like they got the fire under control at this point…It was fully involved. Every window showed fire. They decided it would be a massive stream and outside operation,” said Public Information Officer Mark Zarcaro, Enfield Fire Department.

It took firefighters hours to contain the flames as hot spots continued to pop up.

“It’s a heavy timber building so once the fire takes hold it’s like a log in your fireplace – you can’t really determine when it’s out,” said Zarcaro.

Susan Dow looked on in disbelief Wednesday morning as crews battle the fire at the historic building she and her husband once owned. For decades it housed their family’s company: Dow Mechanical Corporation.

“It’s really sad to see it like that…We have so many family memories in there…My husband’s father started Dow Mechanical Corporation back in 1946…They made precision measuring equipment for quality control.”

When she heard the building was engulfed in flames she stopped by to see if for herself: “I didn’t think it would be bothering me so much.”

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) was brought in to conduct both air and water sampling because run-off was going into the nearby Connecticut River. No oil sheen or fishkill has been observed at this time.

The fire collapsed the top part of the building. And there was concern it could get worse, so the building was torn down overnight.

DEEP tested the air quality, and they said that any possible traces of asbestos fibers were mitigated from the water used to take out the fire. Samples have been sent to a lab to confirm any trace of asbestos.

Eversource was requested to turn off power in the area temporarily. Power to those 1,400 customers has since been restored.

Firefighters say it could take days before they really understand just what caused this fire in the first place.

And now, the town will have to figure out what’s next for this site.

Mayor Michael Ludwick said, “We were hoping to sell it to a developer and then have a multi-use, maybe some restaurants, maybe some people living in apartments…We’ll have to pivot; we’ll figure it out, as we always do.”

No word on injuries at this time. Investigators remained on the scene into Wednesday night.

In an update Thursday, DEEP said their personnel remained on the scene through Wednesday night monitoring air quality. Those activities are now complete.

After the fire was extinguished the building was torn down. It took from around 10 a.m. to around 4 a.m.

DEEP added, “DEEP personnel conducted dust and vapor monitoring for the presence of construction demolition debris in the air. Staff did not detect any elevated levels. Asbestos fiber monitoring was also conducted as a precaution, and those samples have been sent to a laboratory for testing. Those results may be returned as early as tomorrow. Staff report that plenty of water was applied to debris during demolition, and the heavy air and rain last night also likely helped to mitigate the possible release of asbestos fibers into the air. Debris was cleared from the adjacent roadway and train tracks by an asbestos contractor last night. The town will work with the State Department of Public Health on the proper disposal of fire debris. DEEP and EPA Region 1 are no longer on the scene as of this morning.”

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