A fire last Wednesday at Lajoie's Auto Wrecking on Meadow Street was the result of a chain of events, beginning with a line containing lubrication oil that was close to a hot exhaust pipe for a diesel engine overheating. The line ruptured, causing oil to spray onto the exhaust pipe and burst into flames.
The heat from the fire then caused the engine's much larger in diameter diesel fuel line to rupture, and its contents began burning. The fire destroyed a building containing a vehicle shredding machine.
The cause of the fire was announced Wednesday afternoon at a news conference in City Hall, where a representative from Lejoie’s said the company plans to rebuild the shredding machine building, which will probably take three to four months.
The news conference was held following a closed-door meeting of about 45 minutes in Mayor Richard A. Moccia’s office that included representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, the state's Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the city's health and fire departments.
Lajoie’s yard manager, James Murphy, said the company is looking into using an electric motor, rather than a diesel engine, to power the shredder in the future.
"We’re looking at turning a negative into a positive in going green,” Murphy said. “We're looking at electric versus the diesel fossil emissions alternative.”
Murphy said the biggest problem in switching to electricity is obtaining a sufficient power supply to run a 3,000 horsepower motor. Otherwise, he said, the company may install a diesel engine that meets California’s strict emission standards.
The shredder was previously powered by a diesel engine from a train locomotive.
Murphy said the clean-up of the fire damage has been completed and the company is fully operational other than shredding cars.
Representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard and the state Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection said petroleum runoff into Norwalk Harbor and Village Creek was minimal and required no further investigation.
The city’s director of health, Timothy J. Callahan, said the Aquaculture Division of the state’s Dept. of Agriculture took samples from the city’s shellfish beds for laboratory testing, and the results are expected to be returned Thursday or Friday.
Lajoie’s property sits within a residential neighborhood in South Norwalk, and has drawn complaints over the years about smoke from its diesel-powered shredder and previous fires in the shredder building.
Fire Chief Denis McCarthy noted that when the shredder’s diesel engine is started up cold in the morning, it, like all diesel engines, emits smoke until it’s warmed up.
Responding to residents’ concerns, Moccia said, “We understand that running a junkyard is not a very attractive business per se, it is not a type of business that is conducive to a residential neighborhood.
“From all reports that we've had, it's one of the best run facilities across the state as far as maintaining as clean an area as they can and following regulatory rules.”
Moccia noted that the company has been in business at 40 Meadow St. since 1945.
"As we move forward, if these new, modern-thinking green ways of shredding can be implemented, I think that will eliminate about 90 percent of the complaints there," Moccia said.
Last week’s fire required dispatching all of the fire department's engine and trucks companies, and its rescue company, to the location, along with a truck company from Stamford. Engine companies from several surrounding towns moved into the city to handle other fire calls.
There were no injuries.