SHELTON FIRE CAUSE UPDATE: ‘You have to go layer by layer’

Fire investigators now are looking through the burnt debris from the Jan. 6 blaze in downtown Bridgeport.
Fire investigators now are looking through the burnt debris from the Jan. 6 blaze in downtown Bridgeport.

Fire investigators continue to sift through debris from the Jan. 6 fire site in downtown Shelton to try to determine where the blaze started and the cause.

“It’s a tedious process,” Shelton Fire Marshal James Tortora said on late Thursday. “You have to go layer by layer with the items from the bucket of a payloader.”

A payloader is a large piece of construction equipment with an extended arm that has a scooper-like bucket used to pick up and drop things.

‘Something that catches our attention’

Tortora said the payloader will dump what it collects from building remnants on the ground, and then fire officials will sort through the debris for something of interest. “We look for something that catches our attention,” he said.

“We will be here until we find a cause,” said Tortora, adding there are cases where no cause or origin can be determined.

He and other members of the city fire marshal ‘s office are working with personnel from the state fire marshal’s office on the investigation.

Firefighters on the scene during the blaze said the fire may have started in the basement, but that has yet to be verified by investigators.

Process begins at daybreak

Investigators generally begin the day as soon as it gets light out in the early morning, working until it becomes dark — depending on weather conditions.

Tortora said this was a particularly devastating fire, leaving a lot of charred debris to sort through before it can be trucked away.

The investigation also is impacted by the weather, limited daylight hours in the winter and unpredictable factors, such as the possible — and unrelated — gas leak on Thursday morning at a nearby Howe Avenue building.

Apartments, businesses impacted

The early morning fire on Jan. 6 destroyed structures on Howe Avenue between Center Street and Bridge Street/Viaduct Square, including 24 apartments and about a half dozen businesses.

The buildings dated back to the 1800s and were in the heart of Shelton’s central business district.

Part of a one-story building with several storefronts survived the fire and now has been boarded up with plywood, but its long-term future is uncertain. Another larger structure in the rear also was not completely destroyed.

Remaining parts of the main four-story structure have been demolished with construction equipment during the past few days, and most of that building collapsed during the fire.