By Mary Ellen Godin, Record-Journal staff
MERIDEN — Workers and contractors this week have been on the scene of a 68-unit apartment building after lightning ignited a blaze Friday that displaced more than 100 people.
The fire occurred in a multiunit, four-story building, the Harrison Place apartments, 250 East Main St., according to the Meriden Fire Department. No one was injured.
On Tuesday, the building's management was assessing if there are units that are safe for residents to return.
The city opened a temporary shelter at the Senior Center for those who were displaced by the fire, and Animal Control is assisting with any pets who lived in the building. The Red Cross is working to secure temporary housing for those who will need it.
Lightning “struck up close to the roof line and caught the combustible framing alongside the roof,” Fire Marshal John Yacovino said of the fire. “There was a sprinkler system that helped keep it down.”
The city's emergency communications center received a report of a fire on East Main Street around 6:14 p.m. Friday, according to a statement from the Meriden Fire Department. Smoke was reported coming from the attic of the building, which was occupied, officials said.
A witness confirmed to the fire department that lightning had struck the building before the fire started.
"The fire quickly escalated to three alarms, bringing in mutual aid from New Britain, Southington, Middletown, Wallingford and Berlin," fire officials said in the statement. "As companies arrived, they accessed the fourth floor, started pulling ceilings, and discovered the entire attic on the west end was involved. A second alarm was struck and eventually due to the heat and humidity outside a third alarm."
It took about an hour for firefighters to get the fire under control. There was extensive smoke and water damage throughout the building. Firefighters secured the scene and brought in the Red Cross, which worked with the 100 people who lived in the building.
Many of the tenants at Harrison Place remained in temporary hotel housing Tuesday and about three families went to the Red Cross Shelter. The emergency management department of the fire department expects the city shelter to close soon as some units are restored.
On Tuesday, workers were removing water damage to prevent mold and identify units with high humidity. They were also repairing the sprinkler and alarm systems. An insurance inspector is expected Wednesday to assess the total damage and map out a restoration plan. Some of the units are in worse shape than others and will require a gut rehabilitation, while others could be ready for occupancy within a few weeks, said property manager Andrea Atkins.
“We have every vendor out there working as hard as possible,” Atkins said. “The goal is to have everyone return home.”
The building is owned by MPM Limited Partnership with Gennaro Martorelli listed as agent, according to state and local records. The building has been family owned since 1994. Yacovino praised the owners for acting quickly to restore the tenants’ homes.
“They are working as hard as they can to get workers onto the site since the night it happened,” Yacovino said.
Dozens of worker trucks were on-site Tuesday with some tenants milling around the rear lot. Many tenants asked not to be identified but some said those without rental insurance lost everything, while those with coverage fared better.
Atkins praised the city for reaching out to help.
“Everyone working with us from the city has been amazing,” she said. “They have all gone out of their way to help both our tenants and us, and we really appreciate it.”
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