The acrid stench of burnt residential building materials wafted through the center of Jacksonville’s Sports Complex area downtown as a fire that ripped through a high-end apartment complex under construction was still smoldering Tuesday afternoon.
The intense blaze ignited as construction employees were finishing work on the RISE Doro apartments on East Adams Street. That’s just south of the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena and catty-cornered to 121 Financial Ballpark across A. Philip Randolph Boulevard where the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp AAA minor league baseball team plays.
The Doro apartment complex had been under construction for about two years and was viewed as a potential jump-start to residential urban renewal of the Sports Complex which is just east of the urban core of downtown Jacksonville.
Captain Eric Prosswimmer, public information officer for Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said the fire “is still smoldering … and the building is extremely unstable.”
The fire ignited Sunday at around 9:30 p.m. between the sixth and seventh floor of the apartment building that has a total of eight floors. But two days and about one-fifth of the entire Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department personnel battling the blaze has not completely extinguished the fire.
Officials have been unable to determine what caused the fire, but its origins are centered on the south end of the building near the popular Intuition Ale Works brewery, bar, restaurant and entertainment establishment. There were as many as 110 firefighters on scene battling the blaze at one point. Prosswimmer said that figure was cut back to about two dozen as of Tuesday afternoon.
The Doro apartment building itself was estimated to be worth at least $60 million and proposed rent and lease prices ranged from about $1,200 to $3,000 per month for different units.
Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan said the blaze caused extensive damage and already several businesses near the area, including Intuition, will be closed indefinitely because those buildings are in “the collapse zone” should the Doro structure fall.
The inferno became so intense because at times, there was little firefighters could do since the apartments were under construction and normal safety measures for such a structure were not operational.
“We learned that the sprinkler system was not activated because it was pending a final pressure check during the fire inspection that was supposed to happen this week,” Deegan said on her X (formerly Twitter) account.
Prosswimmer acknowledged the three-alarm blaze had no end of challenging conditions for rescue personnel on the scene.
“Any time you deal with a building that’s under construction and you do an interior attack, which our crews initially did, there’s a lot of unknown,” Prosswimmer said. “You’ve got stuff that isn’t finished, it could be being worked on. You’re in a dark environment. … You have various situations like that which are very dangerous for our folks.”
There’s a full investigation underway that may take a while to complete.
“The Bureau of Fire, Arson and Investigations has to go in and determine what caused it, where it started and they have to do their investigation before anything happens,” Proswimmer said.
He added that no part of the building will be immediately demolished to prevent any risk of destroying evidence that may lead to the determination of the cause of the blaze. Only after that investigation is complete will demolition work begin.
The site of the Doro apartment complex was the center of controversy before construction even began. The name of the building comes from a previous building that was located there and was operational until 2016. The original two-story brick structure was completed in 1904 and many residents said it had historical value while arguing against its demolition to make way for the new apartment complex, which was supposed to start accepting limited residents Saturday and Sunday.
The apartment complex would have also represented what some believed to be a renaissance of revitalized residential units in the Sports Complex area. Doro is also within eyesight of EverBank Field, home to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan has already publicly disclosed plans for hotels, entertainment facilities and residential areas he wants to build near the stadium. That would almost certainly coincide with a planned renovation of EverBank Field that is projected to cost more than $1 billion as the city and Jaguars organization are beginning negotiations.
Despite the stubborn blaze and the fact it engulfed much of the wood-frame interior of the unfinished Doro apartment building, there were no injuries to construction workers or any first responders, Prosswimmer said.
“We chalk that up to a strong command presence. Our command was Johnny-on-the-spot and knew what was going on,” he said. “It got to the point where once the fire breached the roof, command pulled everybody out of the structure. That proved to be the smartest thing they could have done.”
While fire damage was heavy to the interior of the structure, fire officials stopped short of calling the building a total loss.
“They’ve already deemed it as structurally unstable. Anything that was built with wood will (likely) be torn down,” Prosswimmer said. “We went into this with the reality it was construction and that just brings a whole new element with what we do.”
“The fire safety systems were not operating and not set up to work, yet. That’s what we rely on with a building this size. You had interior stairs that weren’t complete so that didn’t allow us access to certain places,” Prosswimmer added. “Anytime something burns for something like 40 hours, we’re not going in because it is not safe. Am I saying they’re not going to be able to salvage anything? I’m not saying that.”
He added it’s possible some of the lower floors of the structure could be just waterlogged from the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water that firefighters pumped into the structure.
Editor’s note: Drew Dixon’s spouse is an employee of Mayor Deegan’s administrative staff.