Forty flood-damaged structures have caught fire in Cedar Rapids since the flood of 2008 — the most recent Dec. 3 — and neighbors of flood-damaged properties are keeping a wary eye.
“I can’t go through a fire after the flood, that’s for sure,” said Mike Papich, owner of Papich-Kuba Funeral Home, 1228 Second St. SE. “If something went up in flames closer than that grocery I’d be a little concerned, but I don’t know what a person could do.”
Papich was referring to the Nov. 30 fire that leveled the old Globe Grocery at 131 14th Ave. SW, just days after historic preservation advocates convinced the city to save it. The grocery store stood about two blocks from the funeral home.
Suspects were charged in two of the fires involving flood-damaged buildings. Investigators said the Globe fire was the result of some “human element,” but the building’s destruction left no clues whether accidental — vagrants trying to keep warm, or discarded cigarette butts — or intentional.
“There are a multitude of possible causes, so in the absence of electrical and gas utilities, as well as severe weather (like a lightning strike), it appears that there is a human element involved,” Fire Department spokesman Greg Buelow wrote in an email. Buelow said a fire can’t declared an arson unless its cause is determined.
Many of the buildings still standing, in New Bo and other flooded neighborhoods, became city property through buyouts in the recovery process. Monica Vernon, chair of city council’s development committee, said many of the remaining vacant buildings have legally clouded titles and other issues delaying demolition.
Is there more Cedar Rapids officials could, or should, be doing to prevent fires in flood zone buildings?