A construction fire causes hundreds of evacuations; demolition continues all night


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SALT LAKE CITY — Demolition of a building that burned overnight is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. and is expected to continue through Wednesday evening, according to the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

A major fire at the Sugar House building under construction prompted the overnight evacuation of hundreds of nearby residents and created a difficult situation for firefighters due to a high risk of the building collapsing.

The fire, which burned through the six-story building at 1040 E. 2220 South, started late Tuesday evening and firefighters were unable to quickly contain it as parts of the building continued to collapse, said Salt Lake Fire Captain Tony. Stowe.

Crews battled the fire all day Wednesday. Stowe did not know when the nearly 1,000 evacuees, who had been told to flee neighboring apartments, would be able to return home.

No serious injuries were reported, but Salt Lake City Fire Chief Karl Lieb said a resident suffered a “minor injury.”

The Sugar House Chamber and Community Alliance noted on social media that businesses in the area were also closed for the day. The chamber asked people to shop at affected businesses after the roads were cleared “to help them recover from this closure”.

A “very dangerous” fire

The blaze ignited around 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 firefighting – and as they finished their 48-hour shift – the night crew members were replaced by another platoon, according to the Stowe.

Crews were battling the flames from outside the building and set up a 150ft “collapse zone” around it due to the risk of potential collapse.

“It’s very dangerous. … That’s one of the reasons we’re defensive about it. We can’t hire anyone, we don’t want to hire anyone in a structure like this where there’s no “There’s not really any security of life. … Almost everything has fallen inward,” Stowe said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. Stowe said it was “far too early” to know if the fire was suspicious.

“What becomes of concern is that the scaffolding and the trellis are on the outside of the structure to protect the workers from the various weather events that we have been experiencing lately,” Stowe said. “But with that also come propane cylinders and heaters.”

Neighborhood Evacuations

The Sugarmont Apartments, located immediately north of the building, were evacuated. At one point the building had smoke coming from its exterior and some windows were lost.

“I’m sure there will be some water damage and probably some heat exposure damage,” Stowe said.

A resident of the apartments saw flames appear to reach them.

“I just hope everyone is out of the building and no one is hurt. It can all be replaced,” he said. “I’ll be fine. … I’m just glad I’m not in the building.”

The man said he was about to go to bed and “heard someone knocking on the door. And it was the police, and they said the building next door was on fire and you have to leave immediately”.

He ran downstairs, got in his car and drove off. Later he 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 coming up, people were knocking on my door. I’m not sure what’s going on. Then I looked out my window and I saw the whole building was on fire,” resident Drew Noble said.

“I kind of ran away and didn’t grab a jacket. The paramedics gave me a blanket, and now I’m here,” he said, taking refuge in an evacuation shelter in the piece.

I kind of ran and didn’t grab a jacket. The paramedics gave me a blanket, and now I’m here.

–Drew Noble

Other nearby residents said they heard “crash” and glass breaking sounds after the fire started.

“We 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 wood”.

A shelter for evacuated residents was initially established at Forest Dale Golf Course. The Red Cross then moved the shelter to a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 2005 S. 900 East. Utah Transit Authority buses are also available for evacuees at Fiddlers Elbow, 1063 E. 2100 South, and 1100 E. Wilmington Avenue.

The Red Cross said it had helped more than 200 people evacuated from their homes.

Most residents chose to evacuate elsewhere, Stowe said.

Security and closures

Lieb said the department is working on a demolition plan for the building to make the area safe for returning residents. Residents were allowed to go to their apartments with police escorts around noon, but are unlikely to be able to stay at home on Wednesday evening.

A statement from the Salt Lake City Fire Department urged residents to exercise caution when handling debris from the fire that landed on their property. Residents should use respirators – N95 or better – and gloves when handling items and soak debris or ashes with a garden hose to ensure they no longer pose a risk of fire.

A firefighter pours water on a fire in a building under construction near 1040 E. 2220 South at Sugar House in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.  The fire, which broke out on Tuesday evening, prompted the evacuation overnight of hundreds of local residents.
A firefighter pours water on a fire in a building under construction near 1040 E. 2220 South at Sugar House in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. The fire, which broke out on Tuesday evening, prompted the evacuation overnight of hundreds of local residents. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

“The scene of the fire will continue to generate smoke,” the statement said. “Residents who have respiratory problems or other people at high risk of smoke contamination should consider moving. High risk people who cannot or do not wish to move should wear respiratory protection (N95 masks or better ). All residents should ensure that windows and doors are closed until the smoke clears.”

Crews closed 900 East and 2100 South at 2200 South. “We have a lot of tips. 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 and demolition from a “safe distance”, noting that after the fire broke out, crowds of people took to the streets to view it.

“People are drawn to it, it’s something you don’t see too often, and it makes operating with these big devices very difficult,” he said.

contributorLinda Williams, Karah Brackin, Deanie Wimmer, Matt Rascon, Lori Pritchard, Tamara Vaifanua, Debbie Worthen, Bridger Beal-Cvetko


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Ashley Imlay covers state politics and breaking news for KSL.com. A lifelong Utahn, Ashley also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.

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