Two fires in four days broke out on the 10th floor of the McQueeney Towers public housing complex—the first in an empty office space, the second outdoors on a residential balcony.
No tenants were hurt or displaced as city firefighters quickly put out both blazes.
Both of those fires took place at the 83-unit Charles T. McQueeney Towers Apartments at 358 Orange St. downtown. The public housing authority property is home to low-income seniors and people with disabilities. It also hosts on its groundfloor the headquarters of the Housing Authority of New Haven.
The first fire took place at around 12:20 p.m. on Saturday. The second took place at around 7:58 p.m. on Tuesday. Both occurred on the high-rise’s 10th floor.
Here’s what happened, according to city Fire Chief John Alston.
On Saturday, he said, the fire took place in a non-residential office space on the 10th floor.
The fire was consistent with an overloaded electrical outlet and extension cord, he said. The extension cord was not Underwriters Laboratories (UL) certified.
“It overheated and caused a fire in that area,” Alston said.
Because that 10th-floor office space was empty at the time, Alston said, “the fire burned undetected until it activated the sprinkler system and the alarm system.”
Firefighters contained the blaze, he said, but there was “a lot of water damage” due to the activation of the sprinklers. A lot of the water got into the building’s elevator shaft, he said, leading to the elevator being taken out of service for a few hours.
Thanks to the hard work of an elevator tech and firefighters who “dewatered” and dried the elevator shaft and checked all of the apartments below the fire, the elevator was brought back online within a few hours and no tenants were displaced. (McQueeney Towers has two elevators but, at the time of the fire on Saturday, one elevator was already out of service and awaiting repairs.)
The Tuesday evening fire at McQueeney also took place on the building’s 10th floor, Alston said.
This time, the blaze occurred on a residential apartment’s outdoor balcony.
“A large amount of materials were burned,” he said. “Fortunately, because it was outside, the fire was contained to the outside.”
There was “minor water intrusion” into the unit, he said. Again, no injuries, and no displacements.
This second fire is still under investigation, Alston said. It appears to have taken place in a large, plastic storage container on the outdoor balcony. Firefighters did not find any grill on the balcony, he said.
While the department is not yet sure whether the fire was intentional or accidental, Alston said, the cause appears to be “by human hand.”
Does the fire department think these two 10th-floor fires were related?
“At this time, it’s inconclusive” whether or not they are related, he said.
While the department is confident that the “ignition source” of Saturday’s fire was electrical, he said, the department is still investigating what exactly was the ignition source of Tuesday’s balcony blaze.
How would he describe city firefighter responses to both fires?
“In both instances, tremendous responses,” he said. “Quick response. Quick knock down [of both fires]. I’m very proud.”
Asked for comment on both McQueeney fires, Housing Authority of New Haven Interim Director Shenae Draughn told the Independent: “The fire yesterday was contained to a balcony and was extinguished quickly. The fire on Saturday activated our sprinkler system that extinguished the fire. Both are under investigation.
“Once the investigation is completed, we’ll implement mitigating procedures. Our team, police and fire did an exceptional job with ensuring resident’s safety and that their subsequent needs were taken care of.”