Friday, March 17, 2017

Massive 5-alarm fire destroys the wood-framed Metropolitan apartment complex under construction in downtown Raleigh, NC

 The Metropolitan apartment complex prior to the fire 

Massive fire on W. North St. in downtown Raleigh overnight (WTVD)

Updated 14 mins ago
RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD)
"Avoid downtown," is what Raleigh officials are telling people Friday morning after a huge five-alarm fire ignited overnight at an at least six-story apartment building under construction.

Raleigh Fire Department Division Chief John Fanning said that glass is everywhere and glass is still falling due to the aftermath from the fire. It ignited shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday at 400 W. North St., where the Metropolitan apartment complex was still being built.

"This is the biggest fire that I have ever seen in such a condensed area," Fanning said in his 24 years of experience.

Stunned Raleigh residents and visitors poured out onto sidewalks and streets as the massive blaze filled the area with heavy smoke.

"It was massive. It looked like the entire block was one fire," a downtown business owner and resident named Patrick told ABC11's Angelica Alvarez Thursday night.

The blaze forced the evacuation of nearby businesses and residential buildings, as well as road closures.

Eyewitnesses said it appeared the fire ignited on the second floor, though police and fire officials have not yet made such a determination.

No one lives in the building, but there are numerous buildings nearby, including other residential apartment units.

Only one injury was reported due to falling glass. It was non-life threatening.

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.

A crane used at the construction site collapsed minutes after firefighters arrived.

Fanning added that up to 130 firefighters responded to the growing blaze.

By 1 a.m., the fire appeared to be under control. 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."

Friday morning, Duke Energy's outage map showed around 250 customers were without power after the fire damaged some equipment. Duke Energy said repairs are expected to be complete by 8 a.m.

A building under construction became engulfed in flames in downtown Raleigh. (Lori Denberg)

Hillsborough Street is currently closed in both directions at W Morgan and N Dawson streets as crews continue to monitor the structure.

Glenwood Avenue is also closed in both directions between Wade Avenue and W Morgan Street, as well as, southbound Capital Blvd. between Wade Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.

Several other side streets are also blocked - like Jones, West, and Harrington streets - forcing detours in those areas.

The wood construction of the Metropolitan apartment complex made fighting the blaze challenging.

"They immediately tried to put water on it but as they approached they noticed it was a lot of heavy fire," Raleigh Fire Department Assistant Chief Brad Harvey said. "Especially under construction. The wood is not protected and the fire moves very rapidly. We're very fortunate tonight."

The fire was so large that the smoke was visible on First Alert Doppler XP.

Smoke from fire shows on First Alert Doppler XP

The Metropolitan apartment complex, seen under construction before the fire. (Courtesy of James Willamor)

Jason, who lives directly across the street from the construction site, said he got a little concerned as he saw what began as a small fire quickly escalate.

He told ABC11's Joel Brown that he was at a downtown Raleigh establishment and tried to return to his apartment because he was worried about his dog.

"I tried to make my way back into the building and I couldn't get back in, the police and the fire department were evacuating people and they wouldn't let anyone else back inside," Jason said.

Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory tweeted late Thursday night: "Sec. Kluttz and husband got out of building near #RaleighFire. God bless the firefighters and first responders. Praying for their safety!"

Clay and Hugo, a couple of Peace University students said they had to park off campus when they were returning from the gym because the streets were blocked off.

The two students said lots of friends and co-workers were calling and texting them to make sure they were OK, a scene repeated countless times in downtown Raleigh on Thursday evening.

Some people who lived south of the building were bringing in items from their balconies and watching out for hot embers blowing toward their homes.

Eyewitnesses told ABC11 it took only a few minutes for the fire to develop into a massive blaze that engulfed the building. The reason is that the frame is all wood and it had no fire protection!

"I heard a bunch of sirens," one woman who lives nearby told ABC11's Joel Brown. "I looked around me and everything was orange."

Conner, another downtown Raleigh resident, told ABC11's Joel Brown the "flames were pretty intense and pretty hot, and the whole building went up in about 10 minutes."

A church on the corner of Salisbury and Hillsborough streets offered to shelter anyone displaced by the fire.

The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Huge fire reported in downtown Raleigh. (Jeff Smith/ABC11 Eyewitness)