Updated 6:24 p.m.
NORWALK, Conn. All Greg Lew has left is a burnt set of keys. "I'm just devastated because everything that I own is completely gone. All my work, all my life savings, everything: It's gone, I have nothing my wife's stuff, everything, everything is gone."
The Fairfield University philosophy teacher was one of at least 16 Norwalk residents displaced in a predawn fire that drew crews from Norwalk and Wilton, Deputy Chief Edward Prescott said. The building in the Silver Ridge Townhomes complex at 8 Oakwood Ave., behind the Merritt 7 office complex off Main Avenue, was in flames when firefighters arrived shortly after the 5:45 a.m. alarm.
See photos of the fire here .
All of the residents got out, and two were taken to Norwalk Hospital suffering from smoke inhalation, Prescott said. Two cats belonging to Lew and his wife died.
Four apartments were damaged to the point that ceilings might collapse, Prescott said. Four adjoining apartments were damaged by water. Firefighters evacuated eight damaged apartments in a neighboring building, because water had gotten into fixtures. The power had been shut off.
One propane tank was lost, Prescott said, and Norwalk Police secured professional competition rifles.
Residents credited smoke detectors with saving their lives. But Anthony Mio said he woke up before his went off. "I heard a neighbor run across my back porch and knock into my patio furniture there, that woke me up," he said.
"I thought, 'Burglar? I don't know.' I woke up, went downstairs, heard the fire alarm go off. There was no smoke. I thought it was weird, there was no smoke and the fire alarm was going off. I went upstairs, got as much of my stuff as I could and somebody started yelling, get out, get out," he said.
Super Bowl Sunday brings bad luck to his family, Mio said. "Four years ago a different disaster, seems like every Super Bowl Sunday something goes wrong," he said. Four years ago, his wife was making macaroni and cheese and spilled boiling water on her side. They went to the hospital and got home just before the game began.
Two firefighters sustained minor injuries, Prescott said. When crews arrived, the flames were intense. "Basically the whole apartment building (was on fire), two floors, upon arrival," he said.
A three-story deck that ran along the back of the building was fully engulfed in flames, he said. Fire crews withdrew from the interior attack when the fire raced up the rear of the building, entered the attic and portions of the roof began to collapse. Firefighters used their aerial ladder truck to stream water down from above, knocking out the bulk of the fire on the rear decks and roof areas, allowing fire crews to re-enter the building to finish extinguishing the blaze.
Two women who live in a neighboring building said the walls are thin, which they thought might account for some of the damage. Prescott said the complex was built in 1986 with wood frame and truss construction. Portions of the truss floor in several units and the roof collapsed or became compromised, making it extremely dangerous for firefighters to battle the blaze.
The women said their building had some smoke damage. They got their cars out quickly and were surprised to see two cars still under the badly charred building as firefighters poked at a burnt porch above and water came down the walls from the third floor.
Lew said he had got his car out, but his wife's was still in their parking area, on the first floor. He had tried to rescue his cats he grabbed one, but it got away. "I couldn't get them out, I barely made it out," he said.
His wife is in California on vacation, and she hadn't heard about the fire yet. He said she would be devastated by the loss of the cats.
All he had left of his belongings was the clothing he was wearing. Even his wallet was gone.
"This is my life," he said. "I can't fathom this. How do you start over?"
The last fire crews cleared the scene by 1 p.m., Prescott said. Fire marshal Glen Iannaccone and Fire inspector Kirk McDonald were investigating the cause.
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