Investigation ends: Cause of downtown Shelton fire is ‘undetermined’

The investigation into how the Howe Avenue fire began in downtown Shelton on Jan. 6 has ended without finding a cause.

“The exact cause could not be determined,” Shelton Fire Marshal James Tortora said Monday. “It’s undetermined, mostly due to all the destruction and the [building] collapse.”

Investigators have come up with where they think the fire started. “We believe the fire started in the basement area near Howe Convenient and the Dollar Chest dollar store,” Tortora said.

That would be in the northeast corner of the main building destroyed, near the intersection of Howe Avenue and Bridge Street.

Tortora said the property owner’s insurance company could continue looking into the potential cause.

Demolition process to proceed

The site now has been turned over to the property owner and its demolition company to proceed with removing the rest of the charred debris.

Investigators had spent much of last week looking through the structural remnants, as material was carefully removed by a payloader’s bucket (or scooper). They were carefully sifting through burnt-out debris for clues on the origin and cause.

The Shelton fire marshal’s office was aided by State Police fire investigators, Shelton volunteer firefighters, and other state and city officials during the process.

Ladders used to rescue apartment dwellers

The fire broke out slightly before midnight on Jan. 5, with more than 100 firefighters battling the blaze — and many remaining on-scene into the early daylight hours on Jan. 6. Firefighters had to use tower ladders to rescue some people from upper-floor apartment windows.

Twenty-nine people and eight businesses have been displaced due to the fire. Five people were treated at hospitals for non-life-threatening injuries. No fire personnel were hurt during firefighting and rescue operations.

The fire destroyed much of a city block on Howe Avenue between Center Street and Bridge Street/Viaduct Square, on the Coram Avenue side. A four-story building collapsed that included retail storefronts on the first floor and apartments on upper floors.

A few nearby structures also were damaged, and what will happen to them in the near future is uncertain. The property, with buildings dating back to the 1800s, is owned by the Matto family of Shelton.