Salt Lake firefighters battled a three-alarm fire Thursday evening and then early Friday knocked down the second fire this year at the Roosevelt Apartments.
Flames sparked by faulty wiring in the floor erupted in the basement and gutted the former home of the Salt Lake Roasting Co. and Cafe, 245 E. 400 South, causing more than $1 million damage to the vacant building. More than 55 firefighters with six engine companies and three ladder trucks responded to the 8:22 p.m. fire.The nearby Roosevelt Apartment complex, 256 E. 300 South, vacated after an extensive fire Jan. 2, was reported in flames just after 2 a.m. by a resident of an apartment building to the west. It took 15 minutes for firefighters to control.
The Salt Lake Roasting Co. blaze was so intense at one point that crews on the building's roof had to evacuate, but no injuries were reported. "The tar was starting to melt up there," Salt Lake Fire Capt. Dave Reeves said. "We didn't want to compromise the safety of our people, so we pulled them off."
Communications at the scene caused some tension when commanders had difficulty understanding the garbled voices from firefighters' radios in the building.
"I can't hear you! I can't hear what you're saying," one commander yelled into his radio. The commander thrust his hands in the air and expressed concern about the firefighters inside, but none was injured.
Customers at the nearby Stanyon Street Club, 255 E. 400 South, called the Fire Department after seeing smoke pouring from the building's windows.
The first crews arrived about 8:20 p.m. but had difficulty attacking the source of the blaze because smoke was unusually heavy due to obstructions in the basement. "We were running into walls because of remodeling where there shouldn't have been walls. (Firefighters) thought they were in an open basement but they weren't," said Batallion Chief Don Hill.
"Basement fires are real dirty and nasty. The basement tends to hold the heat and smoke can't ventilate as easily; that's why it's taking us longer," Reeves said.
A heavy plume of smoke lingered in the downtown area during the first minutes of the fire attracting dozens of bystanders. Traffic was closed between 200 East and 300 East for most of the night while crews cleared the scene.
Once the blaze was controlled, firefighters spent an hour pulling the ceiling down searching for "hidden hot spots," Reeves said.
Smoldering embers can be trapped in empty wall and ceiling spaces and later burst into flames, he said.
The building, which is owned by Reagan Outdoor Advertising, was vacated by the coffeehouse's owner Jan. 27 and was being remodeled for a new tenant.
A waiter at the new location of Salt Lake Roasting Co. and Cafe a half-block away said the owner "was tired of leasing" and wanted to buy a home for the local coffeehouse.
Hill said the Roosevelt Apartments fire started in the east center stairwell under the stairs where paint was being stored.
"We're calling it suspicious and under investigation," Hill said later Friday morning. "It's a zero-loss fire since the building would have been totally rebuilt anyway" because of the January fire, Hill said.
Damage estimates from the first fire exceeded $1 million and followed an even earlier fire that also forced tenants of the complex to flee their apartments.