Firefighters battled flames for hours in the second fire in the Cedar Rapids flood zone this week.
The vacant, two-story building at 131 14th Ave. SE caught fire at around 1:30 a.m. Friday. Crews arrived to find a massive scene of smoke and fire in the NewBo area of Cedar Rapids.
“The first unit was arriving on scene at 1:34 a.m. and saw heavy smoke on all four sides of the building and also heavy fire coming out of the back side of the structure,” said Greg Buelow of the Cedar Rapids Fire Department.
Buelow said the crew wasn’t able to safely get inside the structure, due to the intensity of the flames, and instead battled the blaze defensively from the outside. After about four hours, the fire department had pretty much extinguished the flames. The only thing left behind the old building, which used to house a small business, was a mound of charred wood and metal.
Today investigators will turn their attention on what started the early-morning fire. Officials believe it is the 39th fire in the areas impacted by record flooding in 2008.
“At this point, it’s pretty clear there was some type of human element involved,” Buelow said. ”There’s no lightning, no utilities to the building. So, some of your more likely causes of a structure fire are not there.”
This fire comes as investigators rule the blaze earlier in the week an arson case. That fire at 57 18th Ave. SW started at a vacant two-story home around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. That blaze was extinguished very quickly.
No injuries were reported in either case.
“The positive thing about the flood fires is, before Wednesday, we had gone since August without a fire in the flood zone. Part of that is the reason that, over 1,100 structures have been torn down since the flood of 2008,” Buelow said. ”The reality is that when you have buildings that are vacant and boarded up, those who have ill intent have opportunity.”
Investigators are asking anyone with information about the fires to call the Cedar Rapids Fire Department at (319) 286-5200.
Just this week, the Cedar Rapids Development Committee had put out a “last call” for the building, the former home of Globe Grocery. Committee members said they wanted to alert the public and potential developers to prepare development proposals if they want to save any of seven historic NewBo properties, including this one.
The building had been scheduled for demolition, but in a change from last month, the committee members said they believed that the Globe Grocery property was capable of being renovated, and that they would be open to a citizen proposal to renovate the building in place, even though it sits in the construction zone for the city’s proposed flood-protection system.
On Thursday, Beth Chacey, president of Save CR Heritage, credited the council committee for its flexibility on the properties, noting that the committee has become an “advocate” for the Globe property.
“Three of those buildings, including the Globe, were supposed to have been demolished by the end of October,” Chacey said. “So kudos to the city for its willingness to switch gears and give preservation a chance.”