Fire crews contain two-alarm blaze at Tower Parkway power plant

Updated Friday 9:14 p.m. A two-alarm fire broke out at Yale’s Central Power Plant on Tower Parkway early Friday morning, sending flames shooting high into the air just across the street from the Hall of Graduate Studies.

The blaze was reported around 5:30 a.m., New Haven Fire Marshal Joseph Cappucci said. No injuries were reported.

A moderately sized fire burned this morning at the Central Power Plant near Swing Space dormitory at Yale. No injuries have been reported.
A moderately sized fire burned this morning at the Central Power Plant near Swing Space dormitory at Yale. No injuries have been reported.

By sunrise, fire crews had contained the blaze, which started in a large wooden shed housing a temporary boiler in front of the power plant along Tower Parkway. The plant is adjacent to Swing Space dormitory, which houses displaced Jonathan Edwards College students this year as their housing is being renovated.

An investigation into the fire is ongoing, Cappucci said. Firefighters believe the blaze was sparked by the boiler, which somehow malfunctioned and ignited the wooden building surrounding it, he said.

Temperatures plummeted into the single digits Thursday night into Friday morning, and fire officials indicated that may have played a role in the boiler mishap, perhaps causing it to overheat.

“The furnace was probably working a little harder than it normally does,” Cappucci said.

The temporary boilers were installed in a complicated procedure last year that involved a massive crane and weeks of construction, all of which complicated the daily walk along Tower Parkway for the Silliman College Students who lived in Swing Space last year.

The fire did not spread to the main building of the plant, and most of the damage appeared to be contained to the roof of the building housing the temporary boiler. Because the plant has several boilers, and because of other redundancies, it did not shut down during the fire and University buildings were not affected by the blaze, officials said.

It appeared as if the distinctive stone lions that guard the power plant’s gates survived the inferno unharmed.

The Yale Fire Marshal’s office could not be immediately reached for comment regarding the blaze. A staff of three typically mans the control room of the plant at all hours, but it is not yet clear how many workers were on duty when the fire broke out early Friday.

While the news of the fire — and images of shooting flames — led local television newscasts early Friday morning, by midday, Grove Street had re-opened, and the fire crews had decamped from the scene of the fire. A Yale spokeswoman said Friday afternoon that the Office of Public Affairs had not received any inquiries into what had happened at the power plant.

The power plant, whose brick smokestacks can be seen from around campus, was built in 1918. It received an extensive, $70 million renovation and addition in 1998. While many Yale students may not notice the structure, the plant is home to the largest chiller in the state of Connecticut.

While Friday’s fire was easily contained, New Haven is still reeling from its largest fire in decades. A massive inferno engulfed the old Kresge department store on Dec. 12, temporarily displacing 100 residents and all but shutting down traffic downtown on a busy weekday.

Demolition work is continuing on the buildings devastated by that fire, which impacted scores of businesses on the block southeast of the New Haven Green bounded by Church, Chapel, Orange and Center streets.

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