Despite a light rain, people were strolling along the boardwalk at Silver Sands State Park two days after fire destroyed a large part of an ongoing $9.1 million state park improvement project.

A temporary fence blocked access to three burned buildings that sit atop a raised boardwalk parallel to the beach, and “keep out” signs had been posted around the burned structures.

The cause of the March 19 fire at the controversial public access improvement site remains under investigation. And while the entry gate was open, a posting on the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection website states the park is closed. Officials said late Thursday the park will officially reopen Friday.

“At this time of year the boardwalk is very well used,” said Milford Mayor Ben Blake. “For 12 months of the year, you have a tremendous amount of people walking down there. It’s a public asset that everyone uses and enjoys.”

Tuesday’s fire destroyed two of three buildings being built on an elevated boardwalk. One of the buildings housed a concession stand and dining area, and the other public restrooms. The third building that was largely damaged was for offices.

On Thursday, officials were still trying to determine which parts of the construction were salvageable and which, if any, would be demolished.

Milford Fire Battalion Chief Anthony Fabrizi said Wednesday that a ramp leading to the three buildings and pilings appeared to be the only things that could be saved from the wreck.

Moving forward with the project depends on the police and fire investigation.

“We still need to know the nature of the event,” said Jeff Beckham, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Administrative Services which was overseeing the construction project.

Beckham said the general contractor, Scopes Construction of New Britain, was insured, but whether the contractor had enough insurance and the extent of coverage depends on the cause of the fire.

Trooper Josue Dorelus, a spokesman with the Connecticut State Police, said it could be “some time” before investigators announce the cause and origin of the fire. Others have said that information may be released soon.

Capt. Keith Williams of DEEP’s Conservation Police said Wednesday that investigators are not ruling out arson but several sources at the scene Wednesday said there did not seem to be indications the fire was intentionally set.

Sources, including State Rep. Kim Rose (D-Milford), said she was told that painting had been done in one of the buildings the day of the fire, and that some kind of heater may have been in use.

Jim Quish, a member of Milford’s Planning and Zoning Board, was at the scene Wednesday. He often walks in the park.

He said when he walked along the boardwalk Tuesday, he saw a lot of contractors on the site. “There were at least half a dozen different contractors,” Quish said.

When firefighters arrived on the scene Tuesday night at about 10:30 p.m., they found two of the structures fully engulfed and the third building about half in flames. The fire was brought under control in about two hours, but may have been burning for some time before firefighters were notified and arrived on the scene, Fabrizi said the morning after the fire.

Williams said, “It’s devastating for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to put this kind of effort into a project like this and see it go up in flames in a short amount of time, especially when it was projected to be open for Memorial Day weekend for the public to utilize. So it’s definitely a setback for us, for the agency.”

Following is the complete announcement release by DEEP late Thursday, March 21:
Silver Sands State Park will reopen to the public beginning Friday, March 22, 2019.  However, portions of the park will remain closed and off-limits due to the structure fire that occurred there on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. The immediate area around the three buildings involved in the fire has been fenced off and posted with “Danger Keep Out” signs. The “drop off” area is also closed adjacent to the buildings. The main parking area will be open and the beach area and boardwalk can be accessed by the beach service road. The current boardwalk to the beach is presently closed as a result of recent construction activities. The beach and portions of the boardwalk will remain open to the public.
The Environmental Conservation Police continue to investigate and are awaiting the investigation report of the Connecticut State Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit.
To assess environmental impacts of the fire, the DEEP Emergency Response Unit responded to the site on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. No petroleum sheen was observed in the run-off or along the shore line. There was small amount of charred debris observed off site, but the bulk of the material was contained to the property by a soil berm on the property.  The building material does not contain asbestos, as it is new construction. The site was determined not to pose an ongoing risk to human health or the environment.