Downtown Salt Lake fire causes $1.5 million in damage


By Derek Jacobs

SALT LAKE CITY —  A four-alarm fire caused an estimated $1.5 million in damage when flames consumed an unfinished apartment complex late Sunday, Feb. 9, causing the evacuation of nearby homes and a grocery store.

Firefighters responded to the fire at 550 E. 500 South near Trolley Square just before 6 p.m. They tried  to first enter the unfinished building and extinguish the flames; however, that option quickly became too dangerous.

Jasen Asay, a spokesman for the Salt Lake City Fire Department, said, “Because the wood is exposed the fire quickly spread and this became a defensive fire, which means we surrounded the building with our engines and trucks and our firefighters and our main concern was to make sure did not spread to any of the close nearby structures.”

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

One of the most potentially dangerous parts of the fire was the crane on site. “There was a big concern with crane on the side of the property, we didn’t want the crane to collapse and fall down,” Asay said.

The heat was so intense the crane’s metal arm was visibly melted and bent at a sharp angle. (see picture below)

Asay remarked that out of the 100 fires reported this past year in Salt Lake City, only three were four-alarm fires.

After the firefighters began dumping water on the blaze, police officers evacuated the Smith’s grocery store just to the north of the fire and nearby houses.

Paul Ayers, who was driving by on I-15, saw the column of smoke and decided that he should help. Ayers is a sergeant in the National Guard.

“I was just driving home from my National Guard duties and I just saw the flames and I saw that there were not a whole of police around so I went up and asked a couple different and they said, yeah absolutely, help us start evacuating people,” Ayers said.

Ayers knocked on several doors, explained the situation, and said that for their own safety the residents needed to leave their homes.

Ayers is no stranger to fires because of his experience.

“I have actually been in the Black Hawk unit that’s been fighting all the fires this summer, and so I did a lot of the helicopter firefighting. I’m the one that dumps the bucket,” Ayers said. “It’s what I live for, to help people and make a difference.”

The buildings closest to the fires were mostly properties rented by college students attending the University of Utah.

Cory Arthur has lived in a house since last August with his three roommates.

“One of our roommates was home, he called me and said that house was on fire and I didn’t really believe him,” Arthur said. “We checked the news and there were huge flames so I had to come check out my house.”

Arthur’s main concern was that his laptop was safe. “I’d rather been here and grab my laptop, I don’t want to lose my laptop, the U. is hard, all my notes and homework are on there.”

The blaze reached almost 100 feet in height and the flames were visible from miles away. The apartment complex was meant to 64,000 square feet and have 61 units. Six engines responded to the blaze.

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