WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Dozens of people have been displaced and one person has died after a 3-alarm apartment building fire that broke out Monday morning in Waterbury.
The Waterbury Fire Chief tells News 8 that around 10 a.m, crews received a call reporting a motorcycle fire at 43 Colley Street. Upon arrival, firefighters learned it was actually a structure fire and due to the proximity of the burning building to the adjoining buildings, it went from two alarms to three.
Drone video shows flames shooting from the roof of the massive building.
On Tuesday, the person who died in the fire was identified as 68-year-old Elias Koulis.
Officials tell News 8 that the fire has been deemed accidental and that someone had been working on their motor scooter when it caught fire.
One survivor, Steve, told News 8 Tuesday as crews began to demolish the burned husk of a once 12,000 square foot apartment building, “Yesterday was probably one of the worst days of my life. It’s one thing to see the house burn but then to see them actually come in and take it down. It’s pretty heartbreaking.”
Steve and his family lived next door to the apartment building for 40 years. Their house is now little more than ash.
“Every personal belonging that I’ve owned or my family owns – all kinds of records, documents, pictures, memorabilia from different family functions…everything is gone,” he said.
His family is supporting him. His niece told News 8, “I’m lucky my uncle got out safely and we have the memories to live on so we’ll get through it, I know we will.”
As demo began crews helped some families salvage what they could.
Another survivor, Joel, hoping flames spared his family’s immigration paperwork. His dad owned the small bodega on the first floor.
“Hopefully we got it. But we lost a lot of stuff in there anyways…Just going to go one day at a time and we’ll work through everything…I’ll move forward.”
On Monday, one survivor, Kali Fastrum, told News 8, a man in the building saved her life when the flames broke out.
“I just heard a really loud boom,” she said. “He came running to me and told me to just get out. And we ran as the flames were coming down the stairs… He saved my life. I’m able to go home to my son and my husband.”
That ‘he’ was Kenny Williams. He told News 8, “I just grabbed her, ‘let’s go!’ Because if we stay here, we’re both going to be on fire, we’re both going to get caught, because I’m not going to leave you up here. I can’t.”
Williams, in turn, says it was his upstairs neighbor Al-Tariq Heath who alerted him to the danger before he himself jumped for his life out of a third-floor window. He says, “All the fire was coming up the steps. I had to make a quick judgment call.”
Fire Chief Terry Ballou says his crews were forced to work quickly to contain the flames under harsh conditions.
“It’s hot, humid weather,” he said. “It’s difficult to do this kind of work, so we have to keep them rested and hydrated, keep them cycling out of the work zone…It was a lot of work to get this thing under control.”
There were no firefighters injured in the effort.
Residents taking stock, realizing there’s little more than ash and cinder left.
“Everything I worked for,” Williams said, “everything I worked for is gone.”
The Fire Chief says the building is a very large wood-frame structure that housed 12 apartments with 35 occupants. Fire crews were doing a count of occupancy and said that everyone made it out safely except for one resident who was reported missing.
On Tuesday morning, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary issued a statement confirming the death of the missing person, later identified as Koulis.
I’m deeply saddened by yesterday’s devastating fire on Colley Street that claimed the life of a Waterbury resident and uprooted the lives of 14 families. The city immediately contacted the American Red Cross, who responded to the scene to assist families with immediate needs and provide comfort kits, recovery envelopes, and community partner referrals. I’d like to thank the Waterbury Fire Department, the Waterbury Police Department, and all those involved for their quick response, and their commitment to our residents despite the personal dangers they faced.Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary
The Red Cross is helping those displaced find a place to live. They say they are assisting 13 families after the fire: 31 adults and five children.
The two buildings impacted by the fire are heavily damaged and the Fire Chief says they will come down but there was no extension beyond those two buildings.
Officials are investigating.