Fire destroys huge building under construction in downtown Raleigh

(WTVD photo)

RALEIGH - The Latest on apartment building fire in Raleigh, North Carolina (all times local):

5:55 p.m. The massive fire in Raleigh caused North Carolina state government to close some buildings early for the week. The state says three buildings near the apartment building under construction that caught fire Thursday night lost electricity and weren't open Friday. One housed offices for the state Department of Environmental Quality. It's unclear what started the fire. No one was injured. The state Department of Administration says at least three other government buildings had no electricity. One of them had their exterior windows crack, but the windows have been secured. The state banking commissioner office also was closed Friday because it was so close to other damaged buildings. Building inspections have occurred. Administration Department spokeswoman Alexandra Mendoza says power has been restored to the government buildings and should resume normal operations Monday. __ 5:15 p.m. Federal authorities say they will be involved in a joint investigation of a fire that destroyed a downtown apartment complex under construction in Raleigh. A statement from the division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says its National Response Team will arrive Saturday. The team consists of investigators, forensic mapping specialists, canine teams, electrical engineers and forensic chemists. The cause of the fire has not been released. The personnel will assist the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Raleigh Fire Department and the Raleigh Police Department in the investigation. Several nearby buildings were damaged by the fire's intense heat. ___ 1:45 p.m. The fire chief in North Carolina's capital city says an apartment building under construction near an entertainment district had been inspected 50 times before it went up in flames. Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath said Friday the building was most recently inspected three days before it erupted in flames late Thursday. He said one firefighter suffered minor injuries and five people were treated for smoke inhalation. Several other nearby buildings were damaged by the fire's intense heat, and McGrath said they were being inspected to make sure they're safe. The fire was under control after about three hours, although smoke was still rising as firefighters continued pouring water on wreckage that had collapsed to the ground.

-- The Associated Press


Raleigh's fire chief said Friday that the cause of a massive fire that destroyed a large downtown apartment complex under construction is unknown.

"We're just starting our investigation," Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath explained.

CLICK HERE to get complete coverage of the fire from ABC affiliate WTVD

McGrath said it's the largest fire the city has seen since the 1920s.

The 5-alarm fire was first reported around 10 p.m. Thursday night at the Metropolitan apartment complex construction site located at 314 W. Jones Street and was battled by more than 100 firefighters.


Downtown #raleighfire

-- Alison Fowler (@alfowlfa) March 17, 2017

The wooden building burned so quickly that there was little firefighters could do but try to keep it from spreading to neighboring buildings. McGrath said several buildings close to the fire were seriously damaged by the radiant heat. Those buildings were being evaluated Friday for safety to determine if residents living there can return home. The City of Raleigh has set up a call center for affected residents to call with questions at: (919) 996-2999. McGrath said all wooden buildings under construction are especially vulnerable to fires.


.@NWSRaleigh has switched the Radar into SAILS1 mode scanning the smoke plume every 30 secs #RaleighFire

-- Brad Panovich (@wxbrad) March 17, 2017

"Any stick-built building will be vulnerable until sprinkler systems are put in," he explained. "That's why they're not issued a certificate of occupancy until all those issues are resolved." McGrath said workers were just beginning to put in sheetrock and wrap the building when the fire broke out. Firewalls and sprinklers had not been put in yet. "At the point of construction, you cannot protect a building like that," he continued. McGrath said building under construction are inspected. This one had been inspected 50 times, the most recent inspection was on Monday and it passed all code requirements. Falling glass punctured a firefighter's chest during the fire and five people were treated for smoke inhalation, but McGrath said there were no life-threatening injuries.

View from the top of the Holiday Inn. #RaleighFire

-- Jason deBruyn (@jasondebruyn) March 17, 2017

Despite the size of the fire and the minor injuries, McGrath said he was pleased with how it was handled. "This is a very good outcome. The only better outcome would be if the fire didn't occur," he offered. Raleigh Fire Department Division Chief John Fanning said that glass from the neighboring buildings is everywhere and glass is still falling from the aftermath. One injury was reported during the fire, when falling glass punctured a firefighter's chest. Fanning said the injury was non-life threatening. "This is the biggest fire that I have ever seen in such a condensed area," Fanning said in his 24 years of experience.

Photo from my friend Sabrina Karr in Raleigh, hope everyone stays safe! @WBTV_News #RaleighFire

-- Alex Giles WBTV (@AlexGilesNews) March 17, 2017

Eyewitnesses said it appeared the fire ignited on the second floor. Investigators said as soon as it's safe to go into the rubble, they'll begin trying to answer the question of how it happened. No one was living in the building, but there are numerous buildings nearby, including other residential apartment units. Fanning said Friday morning that there was damage to five neighboring buildings and around 10 surrounding buildings had suffered fire exposure from the massive blaze. The American Red Cross is assisting families who were temporarily displaced from neighboring apartment complexes as a result of the recent downtown fire. Displaced residents in need of assistance can call the Red Cross Triangle Chapter at (919) 231-1602. Red Cross caseworkers are available to help downtown at First Baptist Church located at 99 N. Salisbury St. in Raleigh. A crane used at the construction site collapsed minutes after firefighters arrived.

The fire was brought under control by1 a.m., but crews are still spraying the burnt structure with water to extinguish any hot spots. "Continue to wet it so that we don't have anything rekindle," Fanning said. "Usually a rekindle is worse than the original start."

Found my photo from this past week of the Metropolitan; the under-construction building burning in #DowntownRaleigh #raleigh #raleighfire

-- James Willamor (@JamesWillamor) March 17, 2017

The view from @NCDEQ Green Square building of the #raleighfire

-- Anderson Miller (@AndyMillerNC) March 17, 2017