Fire destroys historic Rockville mill, evacuates nearby residents

VERNON — Takisha Johnson was watching late-night television in her Rockville apartment early Monday morning when she smelled smoke and heard a whooshing sound. She looked out her window and saw a huge fire in the mostly vacant mill across the street, she said. 

Johnson and her daughter were among about a dozen people who had to leave their homes in the middle of the night because of the massive blaze. The fire destroyed the Brooklyn Street mill, but no one was injured.

Heat from the fire was so intense, it melted the siding on apartments across the street.

Johnson didn’t feel the heat, but smelled the smoke from her Brooklyn Street apartment shortly before 2 a.m. Monday. When she saw the flames, she got her daughter up and told her to get dressed in case they have to leave. 

“I called 911,” she said. Like those of her neighbors, her apartment building was evacuated. She and her daughter, Tatyanna Porter, 11, ended up walking to the cafeteria at Rockville General Hospital, where American Red Cross volunteers gave residents food and drinks.

Firefighters remained at the scene more than 10 hours later, putting water on the smoldering remains. The roof caved in and the building was gutted.

What’s left of the building will have to be knocked down for safety reasons, said Chris Hammick, safety officer and deputy chief of the Vernon Fire Department. The wall that faces Brooklyn Street was leaning toward the road — and the multi-family homes across the street, he said.

A crane will be brought in to raze it, he said.

Employees with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection were at the scene monitoring pollutants, Fire Chief Stephen Eppler said. 

“As of right now, DEEP has found nothing hazardous in their field testing,” Eppler said. They plan to follow up with lab tests.  

After Johnson called 911, first responders rushed to the mostly vacant mill building at the corner of Brooklyn Street and Vernon Avenue. Officers found that the top floor of the mill was completely engulfed in flames, Vernon Police Sgt. Scott King said.

A Connecticut transit bus was parked up the street to provide temporary shelter for the residents who were forced out of their homes. Admir Shurdho, a CTtransit supervisor, said no one took shelter in the bus as of about 8:30 a.m. 

“We’re standing by in case they need us,” he said as he stood near a bus outside the former Ladd & Hall furniture store. 

The former store, which closed a few years ago, used to keep furniture in the mill building that burned, police and firefighters said. Crystal Tool & Machine Co. is listed as being at the address, but it’s not clear if the company is actively conducting business there. 

In the 1960s, baseballs were made at the mill building, according to the Greater Hartford Baseball Twilight League.  Before that, it housed a printing company, and in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was one of a dozen textile mills in the Rockville section of town, according to Jean Luddy, museum director for the Vernon Historical Society.  

About a half-dozen fire departments helped Vernon firefighters at the scene. They were from South Windsor, the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, Ellington, Tolland, Willington and Bolton, firefighters said. 

“I am grateful to the first responders from throughout the region who helped fight the fire and staff our fire stations,” Mayor Dan Champagne said. “I also thank our neighbors at Rockville General Hospital for opening their doors to provide a warming center for people displaced by the fire. And thank you to the American Red Cross for staffing the warming center and attending to the needs of the neighborhood residents. Our community and our neighbors far and near have stepped up to help us through this massive fire.” 

Michael Purcaro, who is the town administrator and emergency/risk management director, said, “The outpouring of support from our community and mutual aid partners was mission critical to supporting the quick and efficient response by the Vernon fire and police departments.” 

“Once again, Vernon has shown what makes this community truly special — neighbors helping neighbors in times of need,” he said.

Christine Dempsey may be reached at [email protected]


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