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SHELTON — Firefighters from 18 local departments battled the weekend fire at the Oak Ridge Waste & Recycling or provided backup coverage during the massive blaze that required more than 30 hours to extinguish.
The first call for a structure fire at the facility at 90 Oliver Terrace came in around 5 a.m. Saturday, according to Deputy Fire Chief Paul Wilson. Crews were still there the following morning, he said.
“We left (the scene) at 6:15 a.m. (Sunday) but there were still smoldering piles,” Wilson said. “Crews returned to evaluate around 8 a.m. to manage these areas."
When the first crews arrived, Wilson said there was heavy smoke pouring from the facility. Firefighters closed Bridgeport Avenue at Platt Road while the firefighting efforts continued. Bridgeport Avenue remained closed until nearly 2 p.m., according to the state Department of Transportation. Crews observed fire billowing through the roof of a large pre-engineered metal building used to process recyclables.
The fire was not the first at the facility, he said.
In 2019, firefighters extinguished a garbage truck fire that broke out at Oak Ridge. Another refuse truck caught fire at the Winters Bros. Waste System transfer station on Oliver Terrace in 2017.
“We’ve had a few fires in this facility but nothing to this magnitude,” Wilson said, adding that no one was injured during the incident.
Fire Marshal James Tortora said the fire was in piles of waste and debris that were piled high. He said pallets of wrapped cardboard and plastics were also consumed.
“We have had other fires of this magnitude, for instance the Star Pin building, but nothing with a huge fire load of this quantity,” Tortora said.
A fire load is a measure of a fire's potential severity, as calculated by the flammable material in a given area.
Adding to the difficulty besides the fire load, was the water supply, Tortora said.
“The hydrants were being overtaxed, which caused us to initiate a tanker task force response from towns as far away as Ridgefield,” Tortora said. “It’s a coordinated water tanker shuttle system. The operations also caused low water or loss of water to the upper Long Hill Avenue area.”
A tanker shuttle is when multiple fire trucks fill their water tanks at a fill site, then "shuttle" the water to the fire scene, where the trucks then dump the water into an on-scene tank to be pumped onto the fire.
“Due to the heavy volume of fire and the poor hydrants in the immediate area, a tanker task force was requested to supplement the water supply,” Wilson said. “A water fill site was established on a separate water main.”
The Ridgefield Volunteer Fire Department wrote on Facebook that at least 12 tankers shuttled water to the scene for about five hours.
"Luckily no one was injured in this fire given the difficulty and number of volunteers that responded,” Tortora said.
Multiple mutual aid departments were requested to assist on the fire ground and to cover the Shelton stations.
Wilson said firefighters attacked the blaze from the exterior due to the deteriorating conditions of the building.
“Several master streams and aerial monitors were used to suppress the fire but due to the large machinery in the building, it was very difficult to get to the seat of the fire,” Wilson said. “Excavators and loaders were requested to the scene and were used to remove some exterior walls to allow access to the fire.”
Once access was gained, Wilson said units on the scene were able to knock down a majority of the fire. The excavators were then used to remove thousands of tons of compacted trash.
Apparatus from Monroe, Stepney, Stevenson, Stratford, Ansonia, Bethany, Seymour, Derby, Orange, Nichols, Trumbull Center, Long Hill, Oxford, Beacon Falls, Prospect, Ridgefield, Woodbridge and Redding were used either on the scene or for station coverage.
Tortora said while the fire remains under investigation, he expects to determine the cause within a few days.