Crews battled large fire in historic downtown Manchester - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Crews battled large fire in historic downtown Manchester

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Firefighters from several departments battled a fire that significantly damaged two business and left dozens of people displaced in the historic downtown section of Main Street in Manchester late Saturday night.

Crews were called to the 800 block of Main Street just before 9:30 p.m. Saturday evening after reports of black smoke in the area.

It was determined that the three-alarm fire was coming from the basement of the building at 801-809 Main St.  

When firefighters entered the basement, the flames were "so intensely hot," crews were "driven back," according to Manchester fire Chief Robert Bycholski.

"I believe that it's still burning and that will stay hot for another two or three days," Bycholski said. "The floors have collapsed so everything that was on the first and second floor is now in the basement and there's just so much work to do still."

Heavy smoke spread from the basement to the first, second and third floors of the building and gave firefighters a hard time.

Because of the heavy smoke on the first, fire officials had a hard time battling the blaze. The fire became so intense that firefighters had to exit the building and attack it externally.

The 24 apartments on top of the building were evacuated during the fire. The Great Harvest Bread Company and Connecticut Valley Coin as well as the apartments have extensive damage and are uninhabitable, Bycholski said.

Fire officials told Eyewitness News they were worried about the building collapsing. Bycholski said the building will have to be demolished and it could knocked down Sunday. 

There was smoke damage to 791 Main St. and those residents have been displaced at this time.

"It seems to be I'm a survivor, I have no place to live, no place to stay," said Sernon Kodaya, whose apartment was destroyed in the fire.

Kodaya, who moved to Connecticut about 10 years ago from Africa, and now, he is like the 16 other people being helped by the American Red Cross. 

"No family, nothing to stay with them. So I don't feel happy," Kodaya said.

A temporary shelter by the American Red Cross was setup at the Manchester Senior Center for about 20 people, who are living in those apartments.

"People have been coming and going throughout the day," said Pat Calcinary with the American Red Cross. 

Officials with the American Red Cross said they are meeting with residents one-on-one to determine their needs.

"We thank the volunteers who responded last night and who are on the scene today, working to house and support the displaced residents," said American Red Cross spokesperson Paul Shipman in a statement Sunday. "We will work with residents throughout the day today and will monitor the situation to determine housing needs for Sunday night."

One resident was taken to an area hospital for smoke inhalation and one firefighter suffered a non-life-threatening foot injury, Bycholski said. One cat was also taken to a local veterinarian.

The fire was knocked down by 2 a.m., however crews were on scene all Sunday morning taking care of hot spots. Firefighters are expected to be at the fire scene for days. 

"This building here was a hotel at one time and it is all wood inside," said Kenneth Burkamp owns the antique store next door, Manchester Mall. "And once it got started down below, it's just going to go right up."

Burkamp told Eyewitness News he's lived in Manchester his entire life and if this fire is anything is like fires in the past, it may be a while before this fire is put out.

"That's going to burn for along time," Burkamp said. "When the hotel burned up in 1970 I think it was. It burned for two days like this." 

A carousel as long as antiques was found in the basement on the side closet to the Connecticut Valley Coin. It is unclear why the carousel was being stored there.

People in downtown Manchester told Eyewitness News that they could not only still see the smoke hours later, but smell it.

Three blocks in downtown Manchester were shutdown to traffic during the early morning hours on Sunday, due to the fire. However, several people were seen driving in the downtown area to view the fire damage.

Bolton, South Windsor, West Hartford, Glastonbury, Vernon, Hartford, East Hartford Eighth District departments assisting with the fire.

A public works truck was called to the scene to help refuel the fire trucks.

The owner of the Landmark Cafe opened its door to feed first responders.

Highland Park Market also donated food to those displaced by the fire and staying at the shelter.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Bycholski said the investigation will take several days.

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