Dozens of Salt Lake City fire crews descended on a massive blaze at an unoccupied, under-construction building at Sugar House Tuesday night that was still burning Wednesday afternoon.
The fire first broke out around 11 p.m. Tuesday at the project site Residences in Sugar Alley, located at 2188 Highland Drive, according to the Salt Lake City Fires. No injuries were reported in the fire.
On Wednesday afternoon, large flames were still visible as crews continued their firefighting efforts. Chunks of ash and charred material littered sidewalks up to a mile away, while smoke choked surrounding malls.
The largely gutted building was demolished beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday, the Salt Lake City Fire Department said later. Officials expected the planned demolition of the fire-affected structure to continue into the evening.
Nearby residents with respiratory issues should consider leaving the area or wearing an N95 or better mask if they choose to stay near the scene, firefighters said. Area residents should also ensure that all windows and doors are closed until the smoke clears.
Any nearby evacuated residents who need up-to-date information or assistance with overnight shelter should contact the American Red Cross at 800-733-2767.
Captain Tony Stowe said crews believed no one was inside the building when the fire broke out on Tuesday evening. The structure’s exposed building materials and resulting open airflow quickly fueled the flames, creating a “very active” fire, he said.
About 70 firefighters initially responded to the massive blaze before midnight Tuesday, including three ladder trucks, Stowe said.
At the time, these ladder units worked in sync to shoot water up to 110 feet into the air, aiming flames that could be seen spitting from upper floors of the building, according to images released Tuesday evening by the department. Salt Lake City police quickly responded to help firefighters secure the scene.
Parts of the burning building had begun to crumble around 3 a.m. Wednesday, Stowe said. Crews continued to battle the flames from the perimeter of the property until Wednesday afternoon due to the continued threat of scaffolding collapsing.
Just before 4 p.m., firefighters announced the planned demolition in the evening.
Hundreds of residents evacuated
As a precaution, Salt Lake City fire crews began evacuating hundreds of people from adjacent residential buildings around midnight Tuesday as the “high-threat” Sugar House fire continued to burn, Stowe said.
The American Red Cross of Utah provided shelter, food and water to more than 200 people during a temporary evacuation site at Forest Dale Golf Course. On Wednesday, the evacuation site was moved to a Latter-day Saint place of worship at 2005 S. 900 East, which would remain open to displaced residents overnight Wednesday, officials said.
Among the roughly 300 nearby residents who were directed outside at 1 a.m. Wednesday was Amanda Lee, an assistant professor of printmaking at Utah State University. The 45-year-old lives in the Sugarmont complex immediately south of the fire and was safely evacuated with her cat and a bag in hand, she said.
Lee was awake when the fire broke out, she told the Salt Lake Tribune. His first sign of the impending fire: the sirens of the fire engines.
At 11:11 p.m., she posted a photo of the fire on Twitter. At the time, from the vantage point of his neighboring apartment, smoke could be seen billowing from the opposite structure – but no flames. A fire engine could be seen parked on the ground below.
Over the next 30 minutes, in the following Twitter posts, Lee shared video of the growing firein which crews could be seen attempting to douse the now clearly visible flames with water.
Police quickly came to her door, ordering Lee and others on her floor to evacuate, she said. By 12:50 p.m. she was outside and OK, but noted that embers could be seen falling in the area “even a few blocks away.”
She remained concerned for much of Wednesday about her apartment, located so close to the big fire. As of early Wednesday evening, there was no indication that the still-burning fire had spread to nearby buildings, including the Sugarmont complex, Stowe said.
“Crews have done an excellent job of preventing any further spread of this fire,” he said.
Stowe noted Wednesday afternoon that at least one nearby evacuated building — The Vue at Sugar House Crossing, located just north of the blaze — suffered exterior damage due to its proximity to firefighting efforts. ongoing fires.
Some evacuated residents of Sugarmont and Vue should expect to remain displaced overnight until demolition and firefighting operations cease, fire officials said Wednesday afternoon. Lee said she was able to retrieve some of her belongings from her Sugarmont unit around 1 p.m. Wednesday, but was not allowed to remain in the building.
Residents of these buildings should meet with their property managers or surrounding SLCPD officers if they need to retrieve belongings, officials said.
The fire debris reaches a wide radius; stage closed to traffic
Debris from the overnight fire had floated through the yards and streets of Sugar House residents up to a mile from the scene by sunrise Wednesday.
Salt Lake City Fire Department Chief Karl Lieb said it was not unusual for embers to reach such a wide radius, given the size of the blaze.
If community members find debris on their property, they should wear a mask and N95 or better gloves to dispose of it, firefighters advised, or sweep it up, Lieb said. Debris and ashes should be soaked with water to ensure they do not present an additional fire hazard before disposal.
“Refrain from touching it or breathing it very closely,” Lieb said in a video that Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall shared on Twitter early Wednesday.
Traffic and walkways south of the intersection of Highland Drive and 2100 South remained closed Wednesday afternoon as crews continued to battle the blaze amid scheduled evening demolition.
The nearby Sprague branch of the Salt Lake City Public Library System, located at 2131 S. 1100 East, was also closed Wednesday due to the fire. The branch was not damaged by the flames, but it was affected by smoke in the immediate area, library officials said. It is not known whether the branch will reopen on Thursday.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but federal authorities are assisting the Salt Lake City Fire Department with its investigation, Stowe said.
A damage estimate was not immediately available. Property records show the unfinished structure was already valued at more than $12 million this year.