A demolition crew removed what is left of 22 Richard Place following a two-alarm fire Friday night. Fire officials suspect an external cause on the building, which is owned by the Haven Group LLC. The fire was reported to West Haven Emergency Services at 10:28 p.m., and was brought under control at 11:44. Fire Safety personnel remained on scene throughout the night. A Public Works crew was dispatched to the scene, and applied salt to the roads and affected areas. No serious injuries were reported.
Mayor Nancy R. Rossi was kept apprised of the situation throughout the night, and inspected the site along with Chief James O’Brien of the Center District Fire Department to obtain an update on the cause of the fire.
“The cause is currently inconclusive, pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation,” said Saturday. “But, we don’t think it was intentional. It looks like an accidental fire.”
While at the scene Rossi spoke with Fire Marshall Keith Flood of the Center Fire District, who said preliminary evidence pointed to the fire being set.
“The fire remains under investigation at this time, and it is looking like an incendiary fire,” he said at the time.
The West Haven Police Department assessed the remaining vacant properties to identify vulnerabilities. Matt Armstrong, from the Haven Group, LLC, took part in an on-site conference call, and said the developer will take steps to make sure the rest of the area is secure.
“We will cooperate with the City of West Haven throughout the weekend and on Monday to get the site safe and secure,” he said. “Standard Builders, at the expense of the Haven Group, is out in the field with their professional carpenters, securing the remaining houses to a higher standard. We continue to stay on top of the situation.”
By Monday afternoon the building was down and the cleanup was underway.
Armstrong said the situation needed a quick response, which was taken by the company.
“As a local developer, we’re on call 24/7”, Armstrong said. “When something like this happens, we take it very seriously. We’ve responded very quickly, very thoroughly. “
Rossi extended her thanks to the Center District Fire Department, the West Shore and Allingtown Fire Departments who assisted, Milford and New Haven Fire Departments who provided mutual aid, the West Haven Police Department, West Haven Emergency Services/911, the West Haven Department of Public Works, the West Haven Building Department, Matt Armstrong, the Haven Group, LLC, and the West Haven residents who reported the fire.
The fire comes on the heels of reports from businesses in the area that a letter went out saying demolition of the four-block area will begin sometime around March 1. Rossi has said plans call for demolition to begin in the next few weeks.
The Haven project entails construction of high-end specialty outlets that are expected to bring thousands of dollars in taxes, and hundreds of jobs to the area, not including the hundreds of construction jobs expected during the estimated two-plus years of construction.
The project has seen several delays since first announced in the fall of 2014. Among them were purchase of properties and lawsuits regarding the use of eminent domain as well as wading through the permit process with state agencies. The announcement last week by Rossi that demolition is set to begin signals that part of the process is complete.
The belief it was unintentional give credence to the complaints of homeowners in the area that squatters or homeless people were using the vacant buildings. More than a year ago, city crews put concrete barriers up on the streets to prevent traffic and possible illegal activity, but homeowners have reported seeing individuals going into and out of some of the buildings.