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Branford firefighters on the scene of the fully involved Nov. 24 house fire in Stony Creek. Photo from Branford Fire Department/Facebook )
Branford firefighters responding to a fire in a unit at Harbor Village, Short Beach, on Nov. 20. Photo from Branford Fire Department/Facebook )
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Following a thorough investigation, the cause of the huge fire which gutted a Stony Creek home on November 24 has been determined.
Branford Assistant Chief/Fire Marshal Shaun Heffernan told Zip06/The Sound he concluded his investigation on Friday, November 30 with a determination that the origin of the fire was accidental.
"The cause of the fire is going to be ruled accidental, as a result of an electric halogen light accidentally being left on and coming in contact with the deck, which in turn ignited the deck and the back of that structure," Heffernan said.
The fire at 297A Lavassa Terrace went up sometime after 6 p.m. in a tight neighborhood atop a narrow, high driveway off Thimble Island Road. The fire started at the back of the unoccupied house and was fully involved when Branford Fire Department (BFD) arrived on the scene.
Despite many challenges, the main fire was quelled within 20 minutes, followed by several hours of work to fully extinguish the fire, with assistance from Guilford and East Haven Fire Departments.
"This was a big one in a very tight area in town, where 25 feet away, there's three other buildings," said Heffernan. "This was a fire that, when we arrived, as we came by the Church of Christ down near the beach, you could see it in the sky already."
Tight quarters between neighboring houses, wind, low water pressure in the area, accessibility to the fire and other factors – from a downed power line to propane tanks onsite -- had to be accounted and adjusted for during the response, said Heffernan.
"We had some challenges up there," said Heffernan. "A power line dropped onto our first hose line as it burned off the house, which made that hose line unusable. We had to deploy a second hose line. And it was really tight -- Lavassa Terrace is actually not as wide as our trucks [so] we suffered a little damage, but we got it up there, and we were able to keep that fire to basically the house that was the house of origin."
The fire department requested a water pressure boost in the area from the Regional Water Authority and tanker support was brought in as well. Another challenge was three 120-gallon propane tanks identified by the firefighters as part of a 360-degree walkaround assessment made at the scene of every fire, said Heffernan.
"It definitely escalates things," said Heffernan of the tanks, which were in use because natural gas doesn't reach that part of town. "And we were also on top of a hill, with the wind. Luckily, we had a wind coming from the northeast, which helped push the fire away from the other buildings."
A couple of the neighboring houses had some very minor damage, said Heffernan. While the house at 297A Lavassa Terrace was total loss, confirmation at the scene that the home was unoccupied at the time of the fire was a relief for all involved, said Heffernan.
"We were really lucky. It was a house with no one home and no pets," said Heffernan, who called the homeowner from the fire to make sure "...everyone was accounted for, and no pets." He reached the homeowner in Boston with the help of a neighbor, who provided a contact number.
Second Branford House Fire in Four Days
The fire in Stony Creek was the second house fire response made by BFD within four days. On November 20, BFD responded to another critical fire scene in tight quarters, an interior wall fire in a unit of the condominium complex Harbor Village, located in Short Beach. That fire was also safely extinguished, with damage contained to the unit of origin.
"People need to realize, in both of these situations, we were really lucky," said Heffernan. "The Harbor Village fire was in a multifamily dwelling, and by early recognition by the homeowners, and a very aggressive fire attack by our first-in crews, we were able to isolate that fire to the single unit where it started."
In December,1980, a fire at the Harbor Village condominiums "...took out multiple units," noted Heffernan. According to information compiled by Town Historian Jane Bouley, the 1980 fire was fought under icy conditions, made more difficult due to lack of firewalls in the attics enabling the fire to spread.
Heffernan said the key to containing a fire in a multiple dwelling unit is equal parts early recognition and quick response.
"So a building like that, in any of our condos, we're always concerned that if it's not recognized early by whoever discovers the fire, and our crews don't get in there quick and get a quick handle on things, that it could be really catastrophic where we could lose multiple units," said Heffernan.
Heffernan said the Harbor Village fire was caused by a malfunction of the fire place system, which allowed the fire to get out of the fire place system and into the wall enclosure surrounding it.
"The fireplace is a metal insert, and it got out of that fireplace and into the wall behind it," said Heffernan.
A Busy Time of Year: How Residents Can Help
Heffernan said this time of year, when people are starting to use alternative heat sources other than a furnace, always increases the risk of fire breaking out in a home.
"This tends to be our busier time of year," said Heffernan. "It's really important that we remind people that they only burn seasoned firewood; that they get their chimney cleaned and inspected every single year, and whenever they notice any issues with their chimney, they have to get it investigated right away."
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