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Cause of blaze that injured 9 Conn. officers still unclear

Investigators have determined that there were no explosives used to start the massive fire that injured nine LEOs


Scene of the fire during a standoff on May 2, 2018 in North Haven, Conn.

Melanie Stengel/Hartford Courant/TNS

By Dave Altimari and Mikaela Porter
The Hartford Courant

NORTH HAVEN, Conn. — Investigators have determined that there were no explosives used to start the massive fire that sent nine police officers to the hospital and left the man who held his wife hostage for several days dead inside a barn on the North Haven property.

Sources said that fire officials haven’t determined how the blaze started but said there were flammable materials in the area that would have fueled the fire.

The state police also have ruled out the possibility that any members of the SWAT team who were searching the property caused the fire. None of their weapons were fired during the standoff, state police have determined, sources said.

The officers were in the middle of searching the buildings behind the house at 385 Quinnipiac Ave. when an explosion occurred in a barn. The officers were surrounding the barn and were about 10-15 feet away from the structure when it exploded.

Police didn’t know that the man was in the barn and were unsure if he was still at the property. The dead man found in the barn has not been identified.

The owners of the home are John and Deborah Sayre, records show.

An officer had gone up to the barn and knocked out a window, then heard someone inside it yell before the explosion occurred. There are several buildings on the property, including the barn where a boat was stored, a shed-like building and a trailer.

The barn area had an automobile lift in it as well as at least two cars and a motorcycle. There also were several other cars on the property as well as other equipment that seems to indicate that the owner was doing some sort of automobile repair operation on the property.

Nine officers were injured during the explosion, and by Friday, all but two East Haven officers had been released from the hospital. Three North Haven officers, five East Haven officers and a Branford officer were injured.

The South Central Connecticut Regional SWAT team consists of officers from several towns — North Haven, East Haven, Madison, Branford, North Branford and Guilford. North Haven Captain Kevin Glenn is the commanding officer.

Glenn said the unit has 24 officers, five paramedics and a trauma surgeon from Yale-New Haven Hospital assigned to the team. All 24 officers responded to the scene Wednesday night, Glenn said.

The state police Central District Crime Squad and Fire and Explosions Investigation Unit have taken over the investigation from North Haven police.

North Haven Fire Chief Paul Januszewski said he was standing near three houses south of 385 Quinnipiac Ave. with the department’s firefighter paramedic — who serves on the SWAT team — when the first blast occurred. He said paramedics immediately aided the SWAT officers who were injured.

“The blast literally occurred, and they went running,” Januszewski said. “Immediately following the blast, we weren’t sure where the individual was. We figured out what was burning and had to bring in firefighters amongst the SWAT team.”

Januszewski said the quick response probably saved three neighboring houses from catching fire, as well as two homes on Turner Drive. Only a portion of the siding on one home showed damage.

“Firefighters, medics, and police officers worked together to successfully remove nine injured patients from the scene of an explosion, with a fire burning around them and the uncertainty of a potentially armed and dangerous suspect in the area who was clearly willing to injure or kill first responders,” Januszewski said.

He said there was one significant blast and then smaller ones from flammable objects. Januszewski said the department is working with the homeowner to get all hazards removed from the property.

The DEEP was notified Wednesday evening as there were a number of flammable liquids floating in water runoff. The chief said though there was some contaminated materials in the water runoff, it was diluted by the amount of water used to extinguish the flames.

DEEP spokesperson Chris Collibee said the agency was notified Wednesday night by the fire department of a sheen on a nearby body of water, but officials from the hazmat team did not respond. DEEP went Thursday to inspect “pressurized gas cylinders” but found that nothing was in them.

Deborah Sayre filed for divorce from her husband of more than 40 years, John, on April 18, court records show.

Sources said the victim escaped and contacted North Haven police about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, bringing police to the Quinnipiac Avenue home. Officers spent several hours trying to get the woman’s estranged husband out, but as the standoff progressed, the barn exploded, touching off the fire.

Authorities did not identify the human remains in the rubble, saying an autopsy needed to be performed by the office of the chief state medical examiner. The medical examiner had not identified the man on Friday.

In the divorce filing, Deborah Sayre said the “marriage had broken down irretrievably.” She did not elaborate. He was scheduled to answer in court Tuesday. The couple married on Sept. 24, 1977, in New Haven.

According to the court filing, she was not seeking alimony and asked the court for a “fair division of property and debt.”

A page has been set up on the GoFundMe website by 20-year-old North Haven resident Chris Light. Light said he does not know the family but he decided to set up the page when he saw people asking on Facebook how they could help them.

“A house on Quinnipiac Ave in North Haven CT had caught fire from an explosion,” the GoFundMe page says. “I am raising money for the family and hoping that people can contribute! Any donation helps! Thank you!”

©2018 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)