New Haven Fire Ruled Arson

20 Residents Left Homeless

Diana Perez, NBC Connecticut

The fire that ravaged a New Haven apartment building and left 20 people homeless was intentionally set, the city's Fire Marshal told NBC Connecticut Saturday.

Joe Cappucci said an accelerant sniffing dog brought to the scene signaled multiple times in the rear of the building where the fire is believed to have started.  The dog's signals and other evidence collected lead investigators to rule the blaze arson.

The building is a total loss and was demolished throughout the day Saturday.

The fire started around 3 p.m. Friday at 517 Dixwell Ave., a mixed-use building with Precision Kutz barber shop downstairs and 10 apartments upstairs, but quickly spread to three surrounding residential buildings, including 297 Division St.

Panic came over tenants of the buildings as they tried to get out of the burning building.

"Flames were coming out of the windows, and people were running and screaming holding their chests," said Percy Penn of New Haven.

"I was in the store, so I went to the top floor to take the lady out of there. Found the lady in her room, so she come out," said Tony Hernandez, who ventured into the burning building to help a friend get out.

For three hours, 60 New Haven firefighters poured water on the building to keep the flames from spreading any further. About two hours into their attempt, the fire re-ignited. It was caught in the space between the top floor ceiling and the roof. Crews had to tackle it from the outside because the building had caved in.

"The roof is gone, I've got collapse in the center of the building, collapse actually in the right rear of the building, the rear steps have collapsed, so quite a bit of structural damage to the building," said New Haven Fire Chief Michael Grant.

The American Red Cross is assisting the 20 tenants who lived in the building. It opened a temporary shelter at the Fire Academy in New Haven. This weekend, the agency is providing temporary lodging, as well as financial assistance for emergency food, clothing and household needs for the tenants.

Along with displacing residents, the fire is causing traffic issues.

A section of Dixwell is closed down while the New Haven Fire Marshal and State Fire Marshal investigate the fire.

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