A large fire tore through an apartment complex in Meriden early Thursday morning, displacing about 40 people.
Fire officials said at least 20 apartments were affected by the massive blaze, and the Connecticut chapter of the American Red Cross was notified of the situation.
Crews were called out to the complex on Meetinghouse Ridge around 3 a.m. after neighbors said they awoke to screams for help from within the buildings. When fire officials arrived they said they found flames and smoke filling the area.
"All of a sudden I started hearing a raucous and I thought maybe we should put some clothes on," said tenant Mike Pragano.
Residents worked together to help each other escape the blaze.
"We have handicap people in our building so I was trying to knock on their doors to see if they were alert," Pragano said.
It took about 40 firefighters from several surrounding communities such as Middletown and Wallingford nearly three hours to get the blaze under control.
During the firefight, one firefighter was injured, but the injuries were described as minor and he is expected to fully recover.
No injuries were reported to anyone inside the buildings.
Fire officials said the blaze remains under investigation, but they believe a person discarded a cigarette on a balcony, which then set it on fire.
Some neighbors were allowed back in to retrieve some of their belongings. However, Pragano said one neighbor living in the adjacent building was not so lucky.
"She has no clothes, no furniture, no belongings, licenses, birth certificate," Pragano said. "How do you get back on track without that stuff?"
Red Cross officials said they are assisting 38 displaced residents. Some of the impacted residents will be allowed to move to other vacant apartments. Others will be given the option to temporarily stay at a hotel.
"Unfortunately, bad stuff happens near the holidays, but keep a smile on your face," Pragano said. "It's already bad as it is. I have two kids and finding a way to provide them with something doesn't look good."
Officials with the apartment complex told Eyewitness News the fire caused several million dollars in damages.
Copyright 2013 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.