Could Oakland warehouse fire happen in Jacksonville?

Deadly fire has owner of art district building asking questions to ensure safety


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The art scene in Jacksonville continues to grow, along with art districts and studios housed in converted warehouses. After Sunday's deadly fire in Oakland's “Ghost Ship” warehouse-turned-arts-space, some are concerned a similar tragedy could happen in Jacksonville.

The owner of the Cork Art District in North Riverside, which houses about 60 artists, said he has already checked to make sure his building meets fire codes.

“We were concerned,” Dolf James said. “We checked into it, and I really feel like we're doing what we're supposed to do and be as safe as we possibly can be.”

James said the big difference between his building and the one that went up in flames in Oakland, killing at least 36, is that it has a sprinkler system, fire extinguishers and is inspected often by the fire department.

“Nobody lives here. There are people here a lot. We have people who work during the night, but nobody lives here,” James said.

In Atlantic Beach, the back of an old Pic-N-Save store is now an area where artists and antique dealers work. The various businesses there are also inspected annually.

“We try to keep everything open and safe, and we usually have it that way,” collector Marla Harris said.
“I've never given any consideration that it might be dangerous,” artist Holly Blanton said. “We would have 10 or 15 people at the very most ever coming through here.

The city fire marshal's office said old warehouses converted into studios must follow the same extensive fire safety guidelines as other businesses.

“We create a relationship where the consumer knows they can engage in commerce without fearing for their life,” Jacksonville Fire and Rescue spokesman Tom Francis said. “And the business knows everyone is held to that standard.”

The department also relies on customers and tenants to report potential problems.

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