Shortly after 11 p.m. Friday, when an employee of the Sunshine Laundry Co. drove by the business at 739 Maple Ave., everything was quiet.
About a half-hour later, the building was engulfed in flames, destroyed by the fast-moving fire.
On Saturday, near the smoldering ruins, the building's co-owner said he and his son plan to rebuild and reopen the business as soon as possible.
"We're going to build it up again," said owner David Johnston, who owns the building with his son, Bruce. The two are respectively the third and fourth generation of their family to own the structure.
Firefighters were called to the laundry at 11:39 p.m. and a second alarm was sounded three minutes later, with three ladder companies and seven engine companies involved.
Fire Marshal Edward Casares Jr. said the fire started near the center of the building. He said state police were on the scene to help investigate.
"We're all working to determine a cause," Casares said Saturday.
Capt. Ivan Villalobos, a fire department spokesman, said firefighters first reported heavy fire throughout the building, with flames blowing through windows and burning through the roof. The roof collapsed moments later.
Johnston said two large irons and some plastic-wrapping machines were in the section of the building where the fire started. The steam for the irons was shut off at 4 p.m., he said, but the wrapping machines use heat.
"If one of them could have been left on, I don't know," he said.
The company, which now does mostly commercial work, has about 55 employees, Johnston said. It opened in 1916, and has cleaning contracts with the University of Connecticut, the University of Massachusetts, the Coast Guard Academy, Avon Old Farms school and Connecticut College. A storage building in the rear of the business was not damaged, and Johnston thought he might be able to save some equipment.
Johnston, a 1943 UConn graduate, was also able to recover his tickets to the Dec. 6 football game against Pittsburgh from the business office, although they were dripping wet.
Firefighters had extinguished the bulk of the fire by midnight.
Casares said seven people were displaced from apartment buildings next to Sunshine Laundry. The business has four buildings on its lot, and other buildings sustained minor heat exposure. Johnston said he was worried that a smokestack on top of one of the buildings could collapse onto the apartments.
The last employee reportedly left the laundry around 6 p.m., Johnston said.
Three firefighters suffered minor injuries and received medical treatment, Casares said. There were no other injuries.
Bruce Johnston, a Wethersfield resident, has been involved in community improvement efforts on Maple Avenue and in the South End. He is a founder of the Maple Avenue Merchants Association.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at