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Norwich arson fire badly damages home, displaces two families

February 4, 2019

Norwich — Two families were displaced Sunday morning after a fire, which police say was set, badly damaged a two-family home at 42 Prospect St.

No one was injured, including firefighters and the four adults and four children who were inside at the time of the 9:10 a.m. fire.   

As of 10:42 a.m., fire crews had the blaze under control, and by noon, the fire was extinguished and crews had started leaving the scene. Fire department Battalion Chief Gregory Despathy said the “main body” of the fire was knocked down within 10 minutes of crews arriving around 9:15 a.m.

The fire, which started on the backside of the home — Despathy couldn’t confirm where exactly — engulfed both the ground and second floors, as well as the attic. The house was determined to be uninhabitable by the city building official. The Red Cross was assisting the families.

The city fire marshal, along with city detectives police and a state police K-9 accelerant detection  team investigated the cause and origin of the fire and on Sunday night police ruled that the blaze was incendiary and called it an arson.

Police are asking anyone with information to call detectives at (860) 886-5561, Ext. 7, or Deputy Fire Marshal Marl Gilot at (860) 887-2780. Calls can also be made to the police department’s anonymous tip line at (860) 886-5561, Ext. 4. All information will be kept confidential. 

Tremaine Swinson, 42, said he was getting dressed in his upstairs apartment to leave for church when he heard his downstairs neighbor, James Shaw, 39, loudly banging on his door.

“When I opened the door he told me to get out, and thick black smoke started coming in everywhere,” Swinson said. “I ran to get my wife and three kids (who are 19, 16 and 13 years old) out of the house. At that point, I couldn’t see anything. I nearly fainted because the smoke was so much.”

Meanwhile, Shaw’s girlfriend, Kayla Connors, 26, grabbed their 3-year-old son who was sleeping in a separate room before exiting through the front of the house.

“I was sleeping in my room when I heard a loud crash,” Shaw said, pointing to his bedroom window facing the right side of the home. “My window had broken. I thought someone threw a brick through it. And when I looked out, all I could see were flames. When I went outside to try to put it out, the entire backside of the house was in flames, too.”

After getting his family out through the front of the house, Swinson said he watched in horror as the bedrooms of his children were consumed by the blaze.

“Had we waited another minute, they might not have lived,” Swinson said, surrounded by neighbors, family and friends. “I just thank God my children are still here. I’m not mourning them right now and I am so thankful.”

Both Swinson and Shaw said they had no idea how the fire had started and both were still working out the details on where their families would stay over the coming weeks. Swinson said his family would stay in a hotel Sunday night.

“I’m just thinking of my kids right now,” Swinson said. “All of their belongings and clothes are gone. And I just don’t want them to miss a beat at school.”

The owner of the home, Mary Donnelly, declined to comment.

Parts of Prospect Street stretching from Hickory Street to Convent Avenue, as well as parts of Central Avenue, were closed Sunday while crews worked to put out the fire. Crews from Norwich, Taftville, East Great Plains, Yantic and Laurel Hill responded, as well as Norwich police and the Red Cross.

Norwich Public Utilities shut off power to Prospect Street and other surrounding streets Sunday morning. Power was restored to the area at 11:45 a.m., NPU said.

A GoFundMe campaign has been organized for the Swinson family.

m.biekert@theday.com