A large fire at an apartment building under construction in Sugar House prompted the overnight evacuation of hundreds of residents and created a tricky situation for firefighters due to a high risk of the building collapsing.
The fire burning at the six-story apartment building at 1040 E. 2220 South started late Tuesday night, and firefighters don’t expect to be able to contain it anytime soon as parts of the building continue to collapse, said Salt Lake City Fire Capt. Tony Stowe.
Fire Chief Karl Lieb said the department is working on a demolition plan for the building to make the area safe for residents to return. Residents were allowed to go to their apartments with police escorts around noon, but likely won’t be able to stay in their homes Wednesday night.
Crews expect to fight the blaze through the day Wednesday. Stowe did not know when the nearly 1,000 evacuees, who were asked to flee nearby apartments, may be able to return to their homes permanently. No major injuries were reported, but Lieb said a resident sustained a “minor injury.”
The Sugar House Chamber and Community Alliance noted on social media that businesses in the surrounding area were also closed for the day. The chamber asked people to shop at impacted businesses after the roads clear “to help them recover from this shutdown.”
The fire ignited about 11 p.m. Tuesday, bringing a response from about 70 firefighters and more than a dozen fire trucks and engines from multiple agencies, Stowe said.
After several hours of fighting the fire — and as they were ending their 48-hour shift — the overnight crew members were replaced by another platoon, according to the fire captain.
Crews are battling the flames from outside the building and set up a 150-foot "collapse zone" around it due to the risk of a potential collapse.
"It's very dangerous. ... That's one of the reasons that we've gone defensive on this. We're not able to commit anyone, we're not willing to commit anyone inside a structure like this, where there isn't really any life safety. ... Most everything has been falling inwards," Stowe said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Stowe said it's "way too early" to know whether the fire is suspicious.
"What does become concerning is that the scaffolding and mesh is on the outside of the structure, to protect workers from the different weather events we've been having lately," Stowe said. "But along with that, come propane cylinders and heaters as well."
Sugarmont Apartments, immediately north of the building, was evacuated, and it earlier had smoke coming from its exterior and some windows were lost.
“So I’m certain there’s going to be some water damage, and probably some heat-exposure damage,” Stowe said.
A resident of the apartments watched as flames appeared to reach it.
“Just hope everyone got out of the building and no one’s hurt. All this can be replaced,” he said. “We’re gonna be fine. ... I’m just glad I’m not in the building.”
The man said he was getting ready to go to bed and “heard someone pounding on the door. And it was the police, and they said the building was on fire next door and you’ve got to leave immediately.”
He ran downstairs, got in his car and drove away. He later gathered with others and watched the fire burn from a nearby street.
“I woke up to the fire alarm completely delirious. Honestly, I thought the sun was rising, people were knocking at my door. I don’t really know what’s going on. Then I looked out my window and I saw the entire building is on fire,” resident Drew Noble said.
“I kind of ran out and didn’t grab a jacket. EMTs gave me a blanket, and now I’m here,” he said, taking refuge at an evacuation shelter in the neighborhood.
Other nearby residents reported hearing the sounds of “crashing” and glass breaking after the fire ignited.
“We have had several explosions and stuff like that, maybe compressors, maybe fuel canisters,” Stowe said. He described the fire as “free-burning” as the building has “a lot of exposed timbers.”
A shelter for evacuated residents was established at Forest Dale Golf Course. Early Wednesday, the Red Cross announced the shelter was moved to a stake building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 2005 S. 900 East. Utah Transit Authority buses are also available to evacuees at Fiddlers Elbow, 1063 E. 2100 South and 1100 E. Wilmington Avenue.
The Red Cross said it has helped more than 200 of the people who were evacuated from their homes.
Most of the residents chose to evacuate elsewhere, Stowe said.
Crews closed 900 East and 2100 South to 2200 South. “We’ve got a lot of hoses out. So if you don’t need to be in the area, we ask people to avoid the area,” Stowe said.
He asked people to view the fire from a “safe distance,” noting that after the fire broke out crowds of people took to the streets to view it.
“People are attracted to it, it’s something you don’t see too often, and it makes operation with these large apparatus very difficult,” he said.
Contributing: Linda Williams, Karah Brackin, Deanie Wimmer, Matt Rascon