Officials probe fire that gutted Northford Store

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Feb. 11, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — Investigators continued to comb through the ruins of the Northford Store Monday afternoon, after a fire Sunday night destroyed the 138-year-old building.

Residents of the Northford section gathered at the 1405 Middletown Ave. store, where the smell of smoke still hung in the air, to take photographs and look at the remains of the older three-story structure and one-story addition.

Fire Chief Bill Seward said that the local and state fire marshals’ offices had not yet determined a cause or origin for the fire, which began at about 8:40 p.m. Sunday. There were no injuries.

Once their investigation is complete, he said, the still-standing portions of the building will be razed. The town’s building official condemned the structure Monday.

“At this point in time, we’re classifying the fire as undetermined,” Seward said.

The exterior walls of the old store, built in 1870, were standing after the fire, but the roof caved in and the blaze gutted the inside.

The addition was a pile of blackened rubble, although some shelves with groceries on them could still be seen.

The building’s owner is Nick Demos, according to town records. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Demos Realty LLC bought the store in January 2004 for $620,000, according to the town assessor’s office. Prior to that, Paul Hintz had owned the store since 1974, the assessor’s records show.

Seward said it took firefighters about three hours to bring the fire under control, and many were on the scene through the night. Officials determined that they used 540,000 gallons of water in extinguishing the blaze.

The collapse of the roof in both areas of the building complicated the firefighting effort, Seward said.

“There was no life hazard, so we’re not going to jeopardize any firefighters by sending them in,” he said. “It was what we call a defensive operation.”

The building could be down in the next couple of days, he added.

Residents described the store, the only grocery in Northford , as a local historic landmark. Grace Marx, the president of the Totoket Historical Society, said the original section dates from 1870 and it has been continuously in use as a store since then.

At first, the building served as a general store and post office, selling groceries as well as tools and clothing.

It was also a meeting place, and dances and political events took place on the second floor, Marx said.

“It was something like a community center,” she said. “As far as the town was concerned, it really was the center of Northford.”

Rick Scavetta, who lives near the store, said that his power was out for several hours after 9 p.m. as firefighters tried to contain the fire.

“I think for a lot of people who grew up in and around Northford, this is somewhat devastating,” Scavetta said. “I’m sort of a newcomer, but it was part of the quaintness that attracted me to this area, was that grocery store, and unfortunately now it’s gone.”

Residents Tom Carusone and Sean Hart stopped by the store, which sits next to a Rite Aid Pharmacy, Monday afternoon to view the damage.

Carusone said he lives nearby and heard the sirens Sunday night. “It’s been here before my grandfather’s father,” he said. “It’s like a landmark for our town.”

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