Fire burns through Tuttle house roof

Naugatuck firefighters work to make sure a fire is out at the Tuttle house on Church Street Wednesday afternoon. A fire burned a hole through the north side of the roof of the historic house. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — A fire burned a hole through history on Wednesday afternoon.

A cupola on the north side of the roof of the historic Tuttle house, the former Board of Education offices at 380 Church St., caught fire shortly after 12 p.m., Naugatuck Fire Chief Ellen Murray said. When firefighters arrived on the scene, she said there was very heavy smoke coming from the roof.

Firefighters began attacking the fire from inside the borough-owned building, which is undergoing renovations, then utilized the scaffolding surrounding the house to douse the fire from the outside, Murray said.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about a half hour and it took about another 30 minutes before the situation was deemed under control, Murray said. The fire was contained to the cupola area, she said.

Firefighters remained on the scene to investigate and check for hot spots. A firefighter will be stationed at the building over night to make sure the fire doesn’t rekindle, she said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

“At this point in time it looks like it started in the roof area,” Murray said.

About eight workers were working on the building at the time of the fire, Murray said. They were all out of the building by the time firefighters arrived and no one, including firefighters, was injured, she said.

About 20 firefighters from Naugatuck and about 10 from the Waterbury Fire Department responded to the scene, Murray said. Beacon Hose Company No. 1 from Beacon Falls provided coverage at fire headquarters.

“We fought under extremely difficult situations with the heat. They did a great job. Waterbury did a great job, and we appreciate Beacon Hose Company,” Murray said.

The house was originally built as a residence in 1880. The Tuttle family deeded the home to the borough in 1936 for educational purposes. It was used for classrooms throughout the years and in the early 1960s after a fire at Hillside School. The Board of Education, which now has offices in Naugatuck High School, moved there in the 1950s.

The building is undergoing renovations to become the new home of the Naugatuck Historical Society museum and the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation.

The renovations include replacing the slate roof. A. Seondino & Son Inc. is the contractor for the renovation project.

Naugatuck Historical Society President Ken Hanks, a former fire chief in Naugatuck, said there is more water damage than fire damage inside the house. He said the historical society wasn’t storing any significant artifacts or exhibits in the building.

“Part of the museum is the building,” Hanks said. “The architectural significance, the woodwork, the tile work inside is really part of the display. So this is part of our exhibit. That’s the part that hurts right now.”

Naugatuck Senior Center Director Harvey Frydman was in a meeting at the senior center across the street when he said he heard a loud alarm going off. When he and several others at the center walked outside, Frydman said they saw smoke billowing from the roof and then a couple of seconds later orange flames burst into the air.

“I’m glad it didn’t brush over and that no one was hurt,” Frydman said. “It made for a very interesting day. It was also very sad because I watched how that building was being improved for the historical society and it looked beautiful.”

Hanks said it’s too early to tell what the next step will be. He said the focus right now is on getting the water out of the building and setting up dehumidifiers to ensure nothing warps or gets moldy.

The decision on how to repair the damage will be up to borough officials and its insurance company.

The first phase of the renovations was supposed to be done by the end of this month or early July, Hanks said. Society members have a meeting scheduled with the NEDC for this Thursday, he said, when they had planned to discuss possibly moving in sometime in August.

“That’s all on hold,” he said.