Updated Story (3 p.m.)
Southington fire officials said waste oil vats were responsible for a Tuesday morning fire at the Rex Forge industrial building on Atwater Street, leading to heavy flames that reached as high as 100 feet at one point before causing a western portion of the building to collapse.
The Tuesday morning fire began just before 8 a.m. on the manufacturing floor of the hot forging building. Scott DiBattista said the fire began in a waste oil vat and quickly spread to several others in the nearby area.
"It was a complete defensive operation," DiBattista said. "Due to the size of the fire on arrival, we were forced to send out a general alarm and call in all Southington firefighters. They fought the fire from outside the building because due to the heat and height of the flames, we knew there was a danger of the building collapsing."
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There were three minor injuries reported with workers who suffered smoke inhalation or minor burns, DiBattista said, but the building was evacuated before fire officials arrived.
Sixty-three people were in the building when the blaze broke out. One worker suffered from smoke inhalation and was taken by ambulance to the Hospital of Central Connecticut at New Britain General as a precaution. The other two were treated on scene and released.
Dean Barnes, an employee at the office about a quarter mile away, said he was awed by the level of flame before fire officials arrived.
Barnes had been traveling to get a bagel and coffee when he saw the flames shooting in the air from the western end of the building.
"It started on the left side with flames showing from the roof and the walls," Barnes said. "I was here five minutes before the first truck arrived. Flames were shooting as high as 100 feet and I could feel the heat from over 250 feet away."
"It's amazing to see how quickly these things just erupt," said Barnes, who also witnessed earlier this year. "My immediate concern was for the workers inside, but I was told they were out of the building."
The general alarm fire forced fire officials to call in mutual aid from surrounding towns including Cheshire, Berlin and Plainville, DiBattista said. Cheshire officials were on scene while the all three towns were helping cover stations. A general alarm is a call for any available firefighters in town to report for duty.
The fire caused excessive water runoff into the Quinnipiac River and forced staff with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to set up a protective water dam at the south end of Atwater Street.
DEEP Commission Daniel Esty was on scene Tuesday afternoon to assess the situation after oil from the company leaked into the river. Oil could be seen in the river, but officials were unsure how much had run off by the time the response was completed.
Officials have simply referred to the oil leak as "significant." There were 5,000 gallons of oil at the scene, fire officials said.
"At this point, we expect to be here well into the afternoon to continue to knock down any flare ups and assess the situation inside the building," DiBattista said. "We have established recon teams who are continuing their work inside right now."
Fire Capt. Alan Zygmunt said Wisner stated that the fire investigation and is currently looking at an Electrical Discharge Machine in the area of the fire’s origin. An EDM machine used high amounts of electricity to “burn” away metal to produce parts, he said.
Atwater Street remains closed between Interstate 84 and South Main Street. said they expect the road to reopen soon.
Firefighters are battling a blaze that has left an Atwater Street industrial building nearing collapse and forced the department to call surrounding towns for mutual aid.
The fire broke out at the Rex Forge building at around 8 a.m., dispatchers said, with the 200,000 square foot building in danger of collapsing. Fire officials said Cheshire and Plainville firefighters were called for mutual aid.
No injuries have been reported at this time, Rex company officials confirm that staff was able to leave the building unharmed before fire officials arrived. Firefighters are continuing to work to douse flames.
Rex Forge is a forging and manufacturing company that deals in metals, according to the company's website. The company has been operation under several names for the past 150 years.
Atwater Street is closed from the off-ramp to Interstate 84, down through the industrial district and all the way to South Main Street.
Emergency workers will continue to work on scene for the next several hours. Fire officials have not released an official statement.
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