A three-alarm electrical fire has destroyed Delaney's Taproom and Restaurant in the Westville section of New Haven and displaced at least 10 people who lived in apartments upstairs.
The building – built more than a century ago and located at 882 Whalley Avenue – has been deemed a total loss.
Chris Heitmann, executive director of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance, said the building had earned a spot on the National Historic Registry.
"It's devastating. Totally devastating," said restaurant owner Kat Gremse.
When the fire broke out around 5 p.m. Monday, black smoke could be seen for miles. Heavy smoke still lingered early Tuesday morning as firefighters continued to put out hot spots.
Crews from the gas company have also responded and have been working to ensure all gas lines are turned off so debris can be removed.
A spokesperson for the mayor's office said Whalley Avenue will remain closed in Westville until further notice. Eastbound traffic heading toward downtown will be detoured onto Blake Street, and westbound traffic will be diverted onto Fountain Street.
Central Avenue is also closed indefinitely between Fountain Street and Whalley Avenue, according to the mayor's office.
More than 50 firefighters arrived quickly at the scene when the fire was reported. Four were injured, including at least two who were taken to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation and one who remains under observation for chest pains.
Peter Gremse, who has owned the restaurant for 14 years with his wife, said he noticed the lights flicker and heard sparks, then discovered flames in the electrical box, so he pulled the fire alarm and ushered everyone outside.
He teared up as he watched the restaurant burn.
"It's going to go down in flames. It's rough," Peter Gremse said. "Fifteen years of my life were in there."
Five apartments and an office were located above the pub, which employs 48 workers.
"I was really frantic, especially because my customers where the smoke was coming out of had a small baby," said Monika Kaczmarczyk, a server who was working at the time. "So I just was really nervous. I tried to get all my customers out."
Photos showed flames tearing through the siding and wires down in the roadway. Firefighters said flames quickly spread into the walls.
[HAR] Fire Destroys New Haven Pub
"Because of the way the structure is made, [the fire] took off into the walls and we were basically chasing it all over the place," said New Haven Fire Chief Allyn Wright.
Firefighters worked from the outside and waited for the roof to cave in.
And it did.
The walls buckled and part of the second floor collapsed around 7:40 p.m., about an hour and a half after crews rushed to the scene.
"There was so much smoke out here, we couldn't even see one another, couldn't see our apparatus, so it was too much of a danger for firefighters to be in a bucket trying to extinguish the fire," Wright said.
New Haven police spokesman Officer David Hartman said firefighters moved safely away from the building before it toppled onto Central Avenue.
Everyone inside the made it out safely and firefighters rescued a cat named Molly from one of the upstairs apartments.
The Red Cross is providing emergency housing to families living in the five apartments and is supplying them with food, clothing and personal care items.
"All our building was burned: money, passport, books, laptops, iPhones, credit cards, everything," said resident Rami Al Nazzal. "We have nothing; we have only our clothes that we are wearing right now."
A power line snapped outside the building, and United Illuminating cut power to a four-block area of Whalley Avenue, from West Rock Avenue to Blake Street. Authorities warned that both businesses and residents would be affected by the outage.
United Illuminating Vice President Joseph D. Thomas said in a statement Tuesday that the company was notified of the fire at 6:15 p.m. Monday and turned off the power around 6:50 p.m.
Forty homes in the neighborhood remained without power as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, along with a number of natural gas customers, Thomas said. The Southern Connecticut Gas Company has been working to restore gas service.
Construction crews working with LCI plan to strategically start removing debris so fire investigators can sift through the rubble and work to get inside the collapsed building.
Now, those affected are just trying to put one foot in front of the other.
"I'd love to rebuild, but I don't know," Peter Gremse said, still coming to terms with the reality of Monday's devastation.
"You work hard at this and you don't expect this," he added.
Peter and Kat Gremse own another restaurant just across the street – Stone Hearth – and said they planned to report to work today.
Stone Hearth was set to open at 4 p.m. Tuesday and will remain open 7 days per week for lunch and dinner, according to Kat Gremse.