Yacht club fire traced to short circuit
Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — Floodwaters entered the back of Ischoda Yacht Club early Monday morning, short-circuiting a battery pack beneath the back bar and starting a blaze that heavily damaged the banquet room, according to the city's deputy fire marshal.
"I believe it started from the computer battery backup," said Deputy Fire Marshal John McGuirk, referring to the computer beneath the back bar. "Salt water is a catalyst. It caused the battery pack to heat up, and those things can get very, very, very hot. Flooding precipitated the fire. What it did was cause a short circuit, basically."
The Norwalk Fire Department received the alarm for the blaze at the yacht club at 138 Water St. at 1:11 a.m. Monday. At the time, Norwalk and the region were getting socked with a nor'easter that dumped nearly 8 inches of rain. The banquet room is located at the back of the club, facing the harbor, down a set of stairs from the main bar and dining room.
"(Water) will average to the first or second step of the five stairs," said McGuirk, referring to past flooding at the club.
The fire climbed the walls and entered the rafters. Firefighters saw heavy smoke and flames coming from the top of the building when they arrived at the scene. Portions of the burned-out drop ceiling and other charred debris lay on the banquet room floor the morning after.
Members of the yacht club, which was founded in 1886 and has 258 members, vowed Tuesday to rebuild the banquet room and reopen the club.
"As the oldest club on Long Island Sound and Connecticut, we hope to survive this and come back better than ever," said Paul Branter, past commodore of the yacht club.
The damage is not so extensive as to require tearing down the banquet room. Reopening the main bar and dining room will requiring separating the electricity from the damaged area, and complying with Health Department regulations, according to McQuirk.
"Once their insurance adjuster comes in there, the adjuster will give them the go-ahead to start throwing things away," McGuirk said. Then "they have to check on whether they have to throw all that liquor out, whether they have throw that food out."
The banquet room was last used Sunday afternoon. Afterward, before leaving, the bartender cleared furniture from the floor, according to McGuirk.
McGuirk said homeowners and businesses whose properties are subject to flooding also should remove electrical items from their floors.
"If your area is prone to flooding, get any electrical stuff off the floor," McGuirk said. "If you know you're going to flood, or suspect you're going to flood, take the time to disconnect things or move things."