Crazy Day: Incredible Inferno Destroys Neighboring Buildings

My clothes smell of smoke and I had to wash the soot off of my face. It was a crazy day at Horst Engineering in East Hartford, Connecticut. A massive fire destroyed two adjacent properties in our North Meadows neighborhood. No one was hurt, which seems like a miracle. It is also a miracle that our property was spared. It feels like the week is already over, and it is only Monday evening. We had a year’s worth of excitement and anxiety packed into one day. At 8:47 A.M., I was alerted by my uncle, Steven Livingston, that there was a fire across the street from our 36 Cedar plant and very close to our 41 Cedar plant. He was arriving at work just in time, as it looked like the fire had just started. He grabbed a land line and phoned in the 911 call.

I ran outside and smoke was already billowing from one corner of the 50,000 square foot warehouse/office building at 71 George St., where the fire had started. This was less than 50 feet from our own 7,000 square foot building. A small 3,000 square foot building at 79 George St. is in between 71 George and 41 Cedar. The entire block includes a house on James St. and another building on Cherry Street. This is a high density block with adjacent structures as close as three feet to each other.

Employees had just begun to escape OFRA, the occupants of 71 George. Our employees at 41 Cedar were alerted and they got out of our building. I ran into 79 George and notified the only occupant that he had to get out. I think I simply yelled, “Get out of the building now!” and the two of us left the building. Horst Engineering’s employees at 36 Cedar poured into the street when morning break started at 8:50 A.M. Many of our vehicles were parked very close to the blaze, so we began moving them to make room for the fire trucks, which we could already hear in the distance. It was surreal.

79 George was completely engulfed in a matter of minutes, with flames and smoke shot through the large windows, and flames broke through the roof. We got all of our employees back away from the fire and assessed the situation. Eventually, they were evacuated from the neighborhood. You could feel the heat two hundred feet away. The first fire truck on the scene laid out hose and attempted to charge the line from a nearby hydrant. While they struggled to set up, I circled the block in an effort to evaluate the situation. Within 10 minutes, there were more than a dozen East Hartford Fire Department apparatus on the scene. It seemed like two hours had gone by in a matter of minutes.

So much went on today, that it is difficult to replay the events in my mind. At one point, the power to both of our facilities was killed while the blaze was being battled. The power lines on George St. were burned. That ended our internet connection. The water company, power company, phone company, cable company, and hazardous material agencies were all on site. East Hartford got mutual support from the neighboring towns of Hartford, South Windsor, Manchester, and Glastonbury. With no power in the North Meadows, employees from all of the local businesses swarmed into the streets. Hundreds of people watched the firefighters in action.

Media crews showed up and began covering the inferno. I wasn’t wearing my heart rate monitor, but I’m sure that the beats per minute was up there. I often joke that I’ve been “fighting fires” every day during this economic recession, but today was a different story. It was literal.

The building at 71 George St. is totaled. It collapsed in several sections. The steel supporting roof beams are bent and twisted. The cinder block walls caved in.  By the time the sun went down, it was being systematically demolished while the remaining firefighters put out hot spots with gallon after gallon of water. Unfortunately, the small building at 79 George was a victim of the blaze. It was very close to the origin of the fire in the larger building and it succumbed to the intensity of the fire. Once the roof heated up and flames spread, it was too late. They poured an amazing amount of water on the fire, from all angles. The command center had been established in our parking lot and we got a close up view (far closer than I ever want to experience again) of how they coordinate such a serious blaze. The tower trucks positioned nearest to our building were able to keep back the flames and they only came close to our building a few times, but with all of the smoke, there was much to be concerned about.

When most of the fire had been contained, a firefighter escorted me onto the roof of our property so that I could assess the damage. We have 128 solar panels on the roof of the building, which was newly renovated in 2008. A more detailed assessment will take place tomorrow, but clearly, our building escaped the devastation that struck our neighbors and their businesses. Any time you see property and livelihoods impacted like this, you shudder. Horst Engineering has some relatively minor set backs to deal with in the coming days and weeks as this emergency shifts to a clean up and rebuilding effort. Again, it was great fortune that no one was hurt (occupants or emergency personnel) and that tomorrow’s sunrise offers a fresh start.

Horst Engineering will be back up and running at full force tomorrow. We have a new perspective on disasters. We have a strong plan to regroup when our first shift reports for work in the morning. Our plant in Mexico kept making products while we were consumed with the events of the day in Connecticut. The efforts of the emergency personnel should be commended. They did a lot of work on a fast-moving blaze. This should bring the small community of businesses in our area closer as we band together in support of the affected businesses.

This link will take you to all of the photos that Steven Livingston and I took of the blaze.

The Hartford Courant has substantial coverage of the fire at this link.

NBC 30 has video coverage at this link.

1 Response to “Crazy Day: Incredible Inferno Destroys Neighboring Buildings”

  1. 1 Wayne 8 December 2009 at 9:50 am

    Holy cow Scott! That’s crazy. Glad that everything is OK at Horst.

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