Connecticut Firefighters Tame 3-Alarm Inferno

Updated: 03-02-2007 11:30:10 AM

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A factory inferno Thursday night in Hartford needed every firefighter. And, even with that massive response, it took crews hours to get it under control and forced neighbors to take cover inside. The massive fire broke out just after 5 p.m. inside of Machinery Services, a tool manufacturing plant in Hartford's north end, at Main and Windsor Streets near Interstate 91.

Plumes of black smoke could be seen for miles. Several roads around the fire were shut down, as were some businesses.

"This fire went right now to a third alarm. Every single apparatus in the city is here," Deputy Fire Chief Eugene Zieri said at the time.

The real fear was the possibility of airborne toxic chemicals, but that turned out to be no real danger at all, NBC 30's Brandon Rudat reported from the scene.

The state's Department of Environmental Protection hazardous materials crews were on-site for several hours testing the air quality. All of the tests eventually came back negative.

"There are no toxic issues to be concerned about in the air. The primary concern right now is the cleaning solution that was used inside the facility," said Brian Emanuelson of the DEP.

DEP crews said there was an environmental concern because toxic cleaning materials used inside the plant may have been washed down sewer drains.

Fire crews took a defensive strategy as 13 fire trucks surrounded the plant and poured 6,000 gallons of water every minute onto the flames.

Fire crews successfully protected the power supply transformers responsible for powering electricity to a large portion of the city and located just 15 feet from the burning building.

"If you've ever seen a short-circuit in an electrical plug, magnify that a couple of thousand times or more. That's the type of explosion you would have seen," Zieri said.

Sources told NBC30 that two workers were inside the plant when the fire started. Both escaped without injury, but investigators believe human error in operating machinery may be what caused the fire to burn out of control.

Police secured the site's perimeter later Thursday night with yellow tape in hopes of ensuring that the public did not try to gain access.

One firefighter was taken to a hospital suffering from chest pain.

Firefighters were forced to evacuate several businesses and a multi-family home due to concerns that the flames might spread, although three families were later allowed to return.

Several restaurants were forced to close, including the popular Rajun Cajun, as firefighters fought to contain the flames. The restaurant was supposed to host a 250-person event Thursday night.

The lights also quickly went out at the nearby Sisters Diner.

"People were coming, beginning to come and police said we had to get everybody out of the place," said Tommy Armstrong, owner of the Rajun Cajun.

Armstrong described what he saw by saying, "Wow -- a bunch of yellow flames up in the air. It was really, really big, and then I heard a big boom sound."

While business was lost, owners said they hoped to be back to normal for Friday.

Armstrong said he was "praying and hoping things work out the best for everybody cause it's been a rough night tonight."

Firefighters evacuated a multi-family home due to concerns that the flames might spread, although three families were later allowed to return.

"Once the resources got here where we knew it was safe, we let them back into the building," Zieri said.

They were told to keep their doors and windows shut, and concerned neighbors told NBC 30 they had taken those same precautions.

Still, with the flames leaping high into the sky, many people stopped to check out the scene.

It's been seven years since Hartford firefighters battled a fire of this magnitude:

72 firefighters were on scene battling the blaze;

more than 60 off-duty firefighters had to be called in;

and 17 fire apparatus were on scene.

Firefighters from neighboring communities pitched in to help and covered Hartford firehouses. Those departments included East Hartford, West Hartford, Manchester and UConn.

For the latest news, stay tuned to NBC 30 Connecticut News and