Cause of warehouse fire may never be known

City of Jacksonville receives $825,000 bid to demolish unstable structure

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The cause of the three-alarm fire that destroyed a historic downtown warehouse early Saturday morning may never be known due to the unsafe condition of what's left of the structure.

"The structure was deemed to be structurally unsafe before our investigators were able to gain entry. It has since collapsed. Therefore cause and origin are undetermined," said Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for the Florida Fire Marshal's Office. "We've turned the scene back over to the city, yet we will remain in contact with the fire chief during demolition efforts and stand ready to assist if information is uncovered during that process."

The fire of the three-story warehouse on West Davis Street at Jefferson Street lit up Jacksonville's skyline; flames could be seen from across the river.

"There's smoke and fire, and glass is breaking right now," one caller told the 911 operator. "I'm going to move before this place like explodes."

MORE ONLINE: Listen to 911 calls reporting fire

More than 70 Jacksonville firefighters -- including half the city's ladder companies -- spend hours getting the fire under control, then assisted the city's Public Works Department removing debris so that Forsyth could partially reopen before Monday.

Officials said taking down the unstable brick facade is urgent due to safety concerns, so Monday morning the city's code enforcement office put out an emergency request for bids to demolish what's left of the building built in 1909. When the bids were opened at 2 p.m. the low quote was $825,000. But before that contract was offered, the owner's management company, Petra Management took over responsibility and committed to starting removal of the remaining structure within 48 hours.

Before (courtesy Metro Jacksonville)

JFRD battled three-alarm blaze

What's remained of building after fire

Elias Hionides, who managed the property, said that while the building had been vacant for some time, it was under contract for sale earlier this year, but that fell through.

"It is really unfortunate. It was a great building and sort of an iconic structure in this neighborhood," Hionides said. "(We're) just putting one foot in front of the other, starting the demo process, getting Forsyth Street back open. Making sure the area is safe."

When a vacant building catches fire, one possible cause is transients lighting fires to stay warm or cook. Hionides said there had been a few small issues with this property, but they monitored the building and kept it boarded up.

MORE ONLINE: List of large, vacant downtown buildings

With more than 20 large, vacant buildings representing more than 1 million square feet in the city's core, leaders worry about fires and other issues that abandoned property can attract.

"It is sad to see any historic building go in the city, and in downtown in particular," said Terry Lorince, executive director of Downtown Vision. "The goal is how do we activate downtown and how do we bring these vacant buildings back to life?"

Historic building destroyed by fire