Fire investigators wait for Latex factory basement to be pumped out: ‘It’s like watching paint dry’

Shelton Fire Marshal James Tortora hopes to gain access to the inside of the Latex International factory on River Road (Route 110) on Friday morning.

Tortora and his staff have been unable to enter the building’s basement, where the early morning fire was centered, due to high water levels caused by firefighting efforts.

He said there was about 3 feet of water in the basement, which began being pumped out on Thursday afternoon. He estimated there could be 300,000 gallons of water in the basement of the sprawling factory complex.

“It’s like watching paint dry,” Tortora said of the frustration of having to wait for the pumping process to be completed.

Water has mixed with chemicals

The water in the basement also has mixed with chemicals used in the manufacturing process, although many chemicals were kept in adjoining small building. Environmental crews are on the scene.

The contaminated water will be treated both on-site and at the municipal water pollution control plant once it is released into the city’s sewer system.

The water came from hoses used by firefighters as well as from the factory building’s sprinkler system, which did activate during the fire.

Industrial dryer may be cause

Tortora arrived at the fire scene at about 1 a.m., when firefighters also were getting there to fight the blaze.

“We found a working structure fire in the basement — possibly in one of the dryers,” he said.

Other fire officials have said the blaze appears to have started in a large industrial drying machine used in the manufacturing process.

Tortora said he could not confirm that was the cause yet. “We have to get inside to determine that,” he said.

The overnight shift was working in the factory at the time, and all workers got out of the building safely.

Fire in back of main building

The fire occurred toward the rear of the large, main factory building, in the basement where the drying equipment is located. Tortora said the building has one main floor, with higher ceilings like a warehouse, as well as the basement.

Latex International moved into the factory more than a decade ago, after its downtown Ansonia factory was destroyed in a massive fire.

The Shelton factory building at 510 River Road, near the intersection with Constitution Boulevard South, was previously used by Emhart. The property abuts the Housatonic River in the back, near where the fire occurred.