Firefighters battle massive blaze in downtown Jacksonville

Fire union president says building is old funeral home built in the early 1900s

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue crews battled a massive fire at an abandoned commercial building Downtown that took a little over an hour to get under control and involved the collapse of the roof and second floor, fire officials said.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Fire and Rescue crews battled a massive fire at an abandoned funeral home Downtown that took a little over an hour to get under control and involved the collapse of the roof and second floor, fire officials said.

Flames could be seen pouring from the building at Main and Union streets as firefighters battled to douse the fire with several ladder trucks from above.

When the sun went down, the blue lights on the ladders could still be seen high above the building, as hoses poured water down.

Steve Riska, division chief of Fire Operations for JFRD, said the first calls came in to 911 from passersby about 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Eventually, more than 45 apparatus and over 110 firefighters were on scene to battle the blaze, which they were able to get under control in a little over an hour. He said that as of 7:15 p.m., the crews were still fighting hot spots and likely would continue to do that throughout the night because the firefighters cannot enter the building.

This is the first photo in to our news room showing the flames pouring from the building. (WJXT)

Riska explained that the first crews on the scene tried to enter the building but were pushed back by the flames and heat and shortly after they arrived, the roof and second floor caved in, making the walls of the building unstable.

Riska said no firefighters were injured.

“This is an extremely dangerous situation that they were put into,” he said, commending the crews for their work to keep the flames from spreading to nearby structures. “The firefighters did an amazing job protecting the buildings on either side.”

He said there was also a propane tank and the fuel tanks at the 7-Eleven next door to consider, and Hazmat crews were called in to protect those and prevent an even more serious situation.

News4Jax meteorologist Danielle Uliano said the smoke plumes were so thick they showed up on radar.

⚠️ DOWNTOWN FIRE ⚠️ JFRD is responding to a commercial structure fire at Main Street and Union Street. Please avoid the...

Posted by WJXT4 Danielle Uliano on Saturday, January 9, 2021

Jacksonville Fire Union President Randy Wyse told News4Jax that the building is an old funeral home built in the early 1900s that’s been the site of several fires over the years.

He said it’s almost the size of a three-story building because of the high ceilings and that there were known issues with the structure, including visible cracks in the walls.

Wyse said he knows the current owners of the building and that there have been issues with homeless people using it as a place to avoid the cold.

According to the Jacksonville Historical Society, this is the old Moulton and Kyle Funeral Home, designed by famed architect Henry Klutho and built in 1914. FSCJ said it was the River City’s longest-operating business until it closed in the 1990s.

Chief Riska said code enforcement will be called in and the structure will likely need to come down soon.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted video of the firefighters, asking for prayers as they battled the dangerous blaze.

“You’ve got some of the most experienced firefighters we have down there, and I’m sure they’ll be able to handle it,” Wyse told News4Jax during a live interview.

One man showed News4Jax pictures he took from the third floor of his job.

“Firefighters got there, and I noticed because the smoke started getting white,” Joseph Mulligan said. “Black smoke went away, white smoke came. But you could see orange flames, like, in the smoke. It was really high.”

Riska said the state fire marshal’s office has been called to investigate the cause of the fire, but there’s no word right now on what started it.

Riska said State, Union and Laura streets downtown were all closed as firefighters battled the flames, but that they would reopen as crews were released from the scene.

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Cam shared photos of the fire captured by a drone in Downtown Jacksonville.

About the Authors:

A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.