Updated Wednesday Dec. 12 Smoke visible across Yale’s campus rose from a block catty-corner to the New Haven Green early Wednesday morning as emergency responders fought one of the largest blazes to face New Haven’s downtown in years.
No injuries were reported in a fire that spread through 14 buildings and nearly overtook the square block enclosed by Orange, Church, Chapel and Center streets. Although responders ultimately contained the blaze from spreading to adjacent buildings — such as the CentrePointe apartments, which houses some Yale students — several businesses, including the Brass Monkey club and the Mad Rag, were effectively destroyed.
At the end of the day, the three-alarm fire took more than three hours, 65 firefighters and 11 of the city’s 12 fire engines to control, leaving more than $10 million of damage, according to early estimates released by the city. As of Wednesday afternoon, the origin of the fire remained unclear.
“This was a very serious fire,” said Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in a statement that praised firefighters for doing an “amazing job.” “We will continue to take the steps necessary to return to normalcy downtown.”
DeStefano himself arrived on the scene of the fire approximately 40 minutes after a concerned resident first called 911 at 6:33 a.m. The buildings, after all, are essentially on his way to work at City Hall, which is less than a half a block from the blaze. Soon after, the city set up a command post at the Starbucks at the corner of Church and Chapel streets for affected residents and a headquarters for local businesses at the Citibank across the street.
Among the damaged buildings was the recently opened Brass Monkey club and an adjacent parking garage. Fire also overtook China Town Jewelry and adjacent shops, forcing firefighters to break the glass doors and windows in order to extinguish the interior blazes.
The CentrePointe sounded its alarm and evacuated; tenants said they were told to leave in order to avoid the heavy smoke.
“A lot of buildings got a lot of damage,” said Ron, who stopped for coffee at the downtown Starbucks across the street from the fire on his commute from North Haven to Bridgeport and declined to be identified by his last name. “What are the businesses going to do now?”
When DeStefano arrived on the scene of the blaze with his chief of staff, Sean Mattison, both immediately took out their cell phones to make emergency calls. Mattison said later that he was calling in the mayor’s staff early.
DeStefano was then joined by Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01, who oversees emergency-response teams for the city. On the sidewalk across from the New Haven Green, the top three city leaders could soon be seen planning for what would surely be an eventful day, complete with visits to local businesses and comforting of residents.
Onlookers accumulated along with morning traffic, some with their jaws agape, others snapping cell phone photographs. The granddaughter of the owners of Vito’s Deli on 37 Center Street prayed for the fire to spare her family business.
But Leslie Allen, an elderly New Haven resident, who strolled on crutches down Church Street to observe, tried to find the silver lining.
“You can lose a business,” she said. “Just as long as you don’t lose a life.”
The International Festival of Arts and Ideas scheduled to take place downtown tonight has not been postponed.