Stratford beach cottages burn

Fire engines can’t reach remote location

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
March 7, 2008

STRATFORD — Several vacant summer cottages in the Long Beach West area burned to the ground Thursday evening, after witnesses saw youths running from the area just before the flames appeared.

There were no injuries, and firefighters were able to contain the blaze to what they believed were four cottages, but allowed them to burn out because of the difficulty in transporting equipment to the site.

Long Beach West lies adjacent to Pleasure Beach on a spit of land near the Bridgeport line and is only accessible by boat or a milelong walk.

Assistant Fire Chief Daniel Ross said it took fire crews about 20 minutes to reach the area after the call came in. But, when they “first got there, there was not much they could do at all.” Firefighters had to demolish one cottage in order to contain the fire.

The cottages, along with about 40 more in the area, have been the subject of controversy for more than a decade. Stratford owns the land, and after a bridge that connected the area to Bridgeport burned down in 1996, town officials decided not to renew the cottage owners’ leases.

Following a lengthy legal battle, the residents left last summer.

Mayor James Miron said Thursday’s fire illustrated the town’s reasons for evicting the owners: the problems for emergency service personnel in accessing the area.

“It’s been a concern of the town for the last decade,” he said. “One of our concerns has always been, how can we provide proper public safety?”

Firetrucks idled in the beach’s parking lot Thursday night, but boulders blocked entrance to the sand. Some officials and firefighters got to the area using the town’s public works bulldozer or small boats, while others walked.

Police officers have been enforcing no trespassing rules in the area, Miron said, and they arrested some people last summer for squatting in the cottages. But officials were sure Thursday that no one was living in the structures at the time of the fire.

Miron confirmed that witnesses reported seeing people leaving one of the cottages shortly before the fire started. Fire Marshal Thomas Velky was continuing to investigate the blaze Thursday night, but said it looked suspicious.

“There was no electricity, nothing out there to start a fire with except human hands,” Velky said.

The fire started about 4 p.m. with a report that one house was on fire, Ross said. By the time firefighters, which included crews from Bridgeport and Shelton, arrived, two houses were already in flames. In all, four cottages burned down.

“It’s very difficult to get any equipment (to the area),” Ross said. “We were shuttling firefighters out with our Zodiac (boat).”

The incident comes in the midst of a debate about what Stratford should do with the beach now that it has evicted the cottage owners.

The town is in negotiations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the agency to purchase the land. The Town Council held a public forum Wednesday night for residents to voice their opinions on the sale.

Miron said he is in favor of selling the beach to Fish and Wildlife, and he does not think the fire will affect the process.

The agency has offered the town $10 million for the land, which the cottage owners had earlier proposed buying.

“This doesn’t affect what we’ve been talking about with our future plans for the property or the negotiations with Fish and Wildlife,” Miron said.

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