Fire ripped through a condemned building on the corner of Arch Street in New Britain early Friday morning, just over a week after the building was condemned and residents were ordered out.
Residents were asked to leave because of what the city’s building director called deplorable and life-threatening conditions.
Crews responded to the four-story brick building in the Walnut Hill historic district of the city around 4:40 a.m. on Friday and attacked the fire from inside the building for about an hour before they were forced to fight the fire from the air. After three hours, they had the fire under control.
"It was through the walls. It was throughout all the floors," New Britain Fire Captain Michael Berry said.
Berry said there were problems with the stability of the interior of the building.
One firefighter suffered a minor injury while battling the raging fire and was taken to the hospital to be evaluated.
There are apartments on the top three floors of the building, but they have been empty since last week after the building was condemned.
The mixed-use building has been there for more than 100 years. A structural engineer will be deciding whether the structure will be torn down and the fire marshal will work to determine what caused the massive blaze.
“The majority of the building had no fire protection. It had no smoke alarms,” Sergio Lupo, New Britain’s health and building director, said. He said there are six units and some had no heat, while others had no power. He also said there was evidence of illegal activity.
Cisco Barber Shop and a grocery store on the bottom level of the building were destroyed when the fire broke out before those businesses opened for the day. Now the owner of the barber shop is looking for a new place to do business.
City officials reached out to the owner of the building, who lives in New York, and ordered him to arrange for a contractor to secure the property after investigators cleared the scene. Lupo said the man was given plenty of chances to make improvements to the building, but chose not to.
“He was cooperating that he agreed to relocate the tenants, and that’s the extent of it. Cooperating with making repairs to the building and addressing the life-safety very difficult for him to comply, he wasn’t cooperating,” Lupo said.
Buiding officials told NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters that they've had ongoing problems with the property for years.
The blight violations began back in 2012 for the Arch Street building and last week, the health director sent the property letter to condemn the building, calling it a public health violation.
The letter, obtained by NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters, cites many reasons for condemning the building, including lack of utilities; unsafe and unsanitary living conditions; insufficient heat; plumbing, mechanical and electrical problems; a failing fire alarm system and squatting.
NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters also learned there was an "illegal private club" occupying an empty commercial space on the first floor, but there wasn't a certificate of occupancy, according to the city's building department inspector.
Since 2017, New Britain police were called to the property 108 times, mostly for suspicious activity, and police patrols ordered to park and walk the site.
After city officials ordered tenants to leave last week, the residents were initially housed at the Red Roof Inn, where the building owner was supposed to pay the full cost of the hotel.
But according to the city, they had to chip in more than $5,000 when they go notified the owner's credit card declined.
NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters reached out to the property owner and he declined to comment.