A dumpster fire spread to a West Haven thrift store and furniture bank warehouse overnight and damaged most of the organization's inventory just a week after a break-in at the building.
The Helping Hands Community Thrift Store & Furniture Bank has helped people in need across Connecticut since 2010, including people with disabilities, transitioning from homelessness or military service or displaced by fire. Now the privately funded organization, which runs a statewide furniture bank and thrift stores in North Haven and Orange, is hoping for a helping hand in return from the community after fire wiped through its West Haven warehouse.
A dumpster fire behind the building at 52 Richards Street quickly spread to the warehouse around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, according to fire officials.
It was the third dumpster fire in the area overnight Saturday into Sunday, West Haven Deputy Fire Chief Scott Schwartz said. It's unclear at this time whether the fires are connected, but firefighters suspect the blaze at Helping Hands wasn't sparked by accident, according to Schwartz.
"There's nothing else in the back of the building that would catch on fire, there's no electrical outlets, and with the possibility of the other dumpster fires we're trying to piece it all together," Schwartz said. "At this point it's going to be a suspicious fire."
While the building may be structurally sound after the fire, most of the warehouse contents are likely a total loss due to water and smoke damage, according to fire officials.
This isn't the the first time the warehouse has seen damage in recent weeks. Steve Greenburg, a partner at Helping Hands, said that the organization just had to clean up after a break-in at the warehouse last week that resulted in vandalism. He said that there were "things strewn on the floor" and that the loading dock "was covered with broken thing."
Now they are cleaning up again after the fire and boarding up the building. He said that most of the items at the facility are donated and that it can take months to collect donated "furniture, clothing, housewares and knicknacks" to sell in its Orange and North Haven thrift stores "to raise money for 180 different nonprofit organizations."
"The shame is we have people who are counting on furniture to be delivered this week," he said.
There is a way he said that people can help Helping Hands.
"We need donations. We're going to have to fill another warehouse. We're gonna need the phone to ring. And that's really the best way people can help," Greenburg said.
The fire at Helping Hands remains under investigation.
Investigators are analyzing surveillance footage and State Police accelerant-sniffing K-9 dogs scoured the scene for evidence on Sunday morning.
West Haven police ask anyone with information on the dumpster fires to contact the police department at 203-937-3900. Calls will be kept confidential. For more information about Helping Hands and to arrange a donation, you can visit www.helpinghandsctfb.com or call 203-782-4800.