Massive fire damages downtown Raleigh, NC buildings

A massive fire in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina overnight

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Raleigh firefighters battled the largest fire the city has seen in almost 100 years Thursday night.

PHOTO: Downtown Raleigh, NC Fire

The fire was first reported shortly after 10 p.m. and five alarms were quickly sounded. It took crews until 1:10 a.m. to get the fire under control, officials said.

The biggest concern at this point is rekindling, officials said. Three buildings were cleared by Friday morning.

Fire officials told CBS North Carolina the fire started in an apartment building under construction at the intersection of Jones and Harrington streets.

The building was last inspected Monday and was completely compliant, Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath said Friday morning.

The construction had been inspected 50 times but was at an “extremely vulnerable” state before a sprinkler system was installed.

Officials said the fire started on the third floor of the building and spread quickly because it was a wood construction and had many flammable construction materials inside.

The main building involved in the fire spread to four other buildings, according to Raleigh fire officials. Overall, 10 buildings were damaged – five severely, said Raleigh Fire Division Chief John Fanning.

This was the largest fire in the city of Raleigh since the 1920s, according to McGrath.

Some of the buildings damaged included an office building and a residential building. The office building had windows blown out on one side and the apartment building suffered heavy smoke damage and also had windows blown out.

A few hundred people lost power in the immediate area and a construction crane collapsed.

Around 130 firefighters battled the flames with crews working in 90 minute to 2-hour shifts. In addition to the firefighters, 25 apparatus helped work the fire. Fanning said it was one of the worst fires he’s seen.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, McGrath said. It will take until at least Friday evening for crews to get inside the remains.

One first responder suffered a puncture wound due to falling glass but his injuries are non-life threatening and he should be released from the hospital soon, Fanning said.

According to Raleigh police, Harrington Street and West Street are closed from Edenton Street to North Street. Lane Street is closed from Harrington Street to Dawson Street and Jones Street is closed from Glenwood Avenue to Dawson Street. Motorists are advised to avoid the area.

Fanning advised that people stay away from downtown Raleigh, if possible. At the very least, people should avoid the area of the fire. Smoke will most likely hang around downtown for at least another day.

An investigation into the fire hasn’t begun yet, Fanning said. Investigators are expected to arrive at the site and begin working around lunchtime.

At least one local business is helping feed first responders and the Raleigh Chamber is offering up their building for local businesses to continue working.

Barry’s Cafe went to the area of the fire around 12:30 a.m. Friday to feed first responders and they plan to come back later today to feed more and are already prepping food.

The Raleigh Chamber tweeted that their office is available from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to displaced business owners and business leaders who need a downtown base of operations with WiFi, copiers and coffee. For more information, call the Chamber at (919) 664-7000.