Norwallk Hour Reporting:
March 27, 2012
NORWALK-- Every on-duty firefighter in Norwalk fought to prevent a Wednesday afternoon blaze in a building at LaJoie's Scrap and Recycling from igniting thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and exploding containers of accelerants. Deputy Fire Chief Ed Prescott said the fire tore through the 60-foot-by-60-foot, two-story sheet metal building that houses the mid-20th century, 20-cylinder diesel locomotive engine that powers a car shredder. The building contained about 9,000 gallons of diesel fuel as well as containers of acetylene and oxygen, fire officials said. "Our main concern was that a lot of acetylene tanks and oxygen tanks were compromised and were fueling the fire," he said. "Our guys worked really hard to contain it to where it was and to make sure there was external explosions." Fire Marshall Glenn Iannacone said a fire inspector was looking into the exact cause of the blaze. Lawrence Street resident Thurman Wilson said he was walking home from the store when he heard "a big boom."?He thought he smelled smoke as he was walking in the door to his residence and as soon as he entered his home, his daughter asked if he had just heard an explosion. "I came back outside and the sky was full of smoke," he said. Fire crews responded to the scene at 1:35 p.m., and emergency personnel shut down the section of Meadow Street between Woodward Avenue and Knapp Street. Firefighters on ladder trucks attacked the blaze as flames, as they consumed the building. A fog of grey smoke drifted into the portion of Woodward Avenue between Lowndes and Longshore avenues, and the smell of diesel fuel and burning rubber filled the air as firefighters knocked the flames down. The Department of Environmental and Energy Protection responded to the scene to investigate the incident. Prescott said LaJoie's has a system that collects spilled oil to prevent it from entering storm drains, and the drains appeared to collect all of the spilled oil. However, a boom was placed in a nearby creek to ensure any contaminants would be absorbed and removed from the water, Prescott said. Deputy Fire Chief Chris King said initial reports from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicate that the area around the facility is safe. King said the DEEP was also checking the air quality. Firefighters from Rowayton, New Canaan and Westport lent mutual aid to the city and fielded emergency calls while Norwalk crews fought the flames. A Stamford Fire Department ladder crew was on stand-by at the scene, but Norwalk firefighters were able to get the fire under control by 2:50 p.m. Neighbors have reported hearing numerous explosions coming from the area of the car shredder, and nearby residents have often complained about the thick smoke drifting into their property from the facility. The Rev. Nellie Mann, who has lived in the neighborhood next to the scrap yard for three decades, said she can hear explosions coming from the scrap yard, and her house often shakes following the loud sound. "It seems like they're covering up something, because this really should not be happening," she said. From 2004 to 2008, the Norwalk Fire Department responded to 24 incidents at LaJoie's, including two fires in two days on Aug. 23 and 24, 2008. Local environmentalist Diane Lauricella said her ad-hoc local environmental group Norwalk Neighbors for Environmental Justice was planning to meet with LaJoie's management this spring to discuss complaints and concerns about the facility's effect on the surrounding neighborhood. The meeting may be rescheduled to a closer date. "We want to work with them to help them clean up their act, because it's about time," she said.