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UPDATED: Ogden fire destroys apartment building frame, 3 homes; human cause suspected

By Mark Shenefelt And Tim Vandenack standard-Examiner - | Jun 29, 2021
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A fire late Monday, June 28, 2021, destroyed an apartment building that was being built in the 300 block of 28th Street in Ogden and destroyed three nearby homes. This is the aftermath on Tuesday, June 29, 2021.

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Residents watch as a large fire rages near 28th Street and Grant Avenue on Monday night, June 28, 2021. The fire destroyed an apartment building that was being built and destroyed three nearby homes.

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A large fire near downtown Ogden is visible from the East Bench late Monday, June 28, 2021. The fire destroyed an apartment building that was being built and destroyed three nearby homes.

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A fire burns along 28th Street on Monday night, June 28, 2021, at the site of an apartment building that was still under construction. The fire also destroyed three nearby homes.

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Fires destroyed an abandoned building Monday, June 28, 2021, at 29th Street and Washington Boulevard.

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Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze late Monday, June 28, 2021, that destroyed an apartment building under construction in the 300 block of 28th Street in Ogden and destroyed three nearby homes.

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A fire late Monday, June 28, 2021, destroyed an apartment building that was being built in the 300 block of 28th Street in Ogden and three nearby homes. This is the aftermath on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, viewed from the rear of the lot.

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A fire late Monday, June 28, 2021, destroyed an apartment building that was being built in the 300 block of 28th Street in Ogden and destroyed three nearby homes. This is the aftermath on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Firefighters were on the scene and Rocky Mountain Power crews were replacing damaged and destroyed power lines.

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A large fire rages near 28th Street and Grant Avenue on Monday night, June 28, 2021. The fire destroyed an apartment building that was being built and destroyed three nearby homes.

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Residents watch as a large fire rages near 28th Street and Grant Avenue on Monday night, June 28, 2021. The fire destroyed an apartment building that was being built and destroyed three nearby homes.

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Firefighters battle a large blaze that destroyed an apartment building that was being built in the 300 block of 28th Street in Ogden as well as three nearby homes.

OGDEN — A fierce fire in central Ogden destroyed an apartment building that was taking shape and three adjacent homes Monday and early Tuesday.

It heavily damaged two other homes and four businesses, including a car rental lot, causing an estimated $3.1 million in damage, said Shelby Willis, deputy chief for the Ogden Fire Department. She said authorities had talked to a person of interest in the matter, a female, and released her. The investigation by fire officials and Ogden Police into the blaze — suspected to be human-caused — continues.

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner

Ogden fire crews attempt to extinguish a large structure fire on 28th Street west of Washington Boulevard just before midnight Monday, June 28, 2021.

“It’s still too early in the investigation to say a cause. But it is likely human-caused and it is suspicious to us,” said Ogden Fire Marshal Mike Brown. Aside from his office and Ogden police, Brown said the Utah State Fire Marshal’s Office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were aiding in the probe.

The incident — which followed a fire earlier Monday at an abandoned structure just to the north — cut power to the neighborhood around 28th Street and Grant Avenue, where the fires occurred. It also forced firefighters to use large amounts of precious water needed during the drought, an estimated 1.5 million gallons in all, Willis said she thinks. Two civilians and a firefighter suffered from smoke inhalation, but that was the extent of the injuries.

“Thank God,” Willis said.

It was a chaotic scene late Monday night, with firefighters using a ladder truck to douse the fire from high above. The focus was the north side of 28th Street between Washington Boulevard and Grant Avenue, where a four-story apartment structure was being built. Onlookers crowded as close as authorities allowed, gathering along Washington Boulevard at 28th Street.

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner

A fire late Monday, June 28, 2021, destroyed an apartment building that was being built in the 300 block of 28th Street in Ogden and destroyed three nearby homes. Here, onlookers watch firefighting efforts from afar at the corner of 28th Street and Washington Boulevard.

“You could see flames shooting up past the houses. … It was way higher than the home. The scene last night was chaos,” said Floyd Jones. He was driving on Harrison Boulevard to the east Monday night, saw a red cloud of smoke in the sky then traveled to the scene.

Tuesday morning, Rocky Mountain Power crews were on hand, placing new power lines, while Ogden firefighters kept tabs on the scene. The area where the apartment structure had sat in the 300 block of 28th Street was a vacant, charred lot. The three brick homes immediately to the west — at 302, 306 and 314 28th St. — were destroyed, with at least three torched vehicles in the driveways. Some other homes backing the site of the apartment project on Grant Avenue appeared to have sustained lighter heat damage to the rear, same as a few businesses on 28th Street in front of the building that was under construction.

Dean Gallegos lived in one of the homes destroyed, at 306 28th St., and he was assessing the scene Tuesday morning from Marshall White Park, where he had slept overnight.

“The house is paid for. I was just getting ready to remodel the whole thing,” he said. “I don’t know what the hell to do.”

Willis said two homes east of the apartment building site sustained heavy damage and that a Hertz auto rental lot to the south, among other businesses, also suffered damage. Twenty-nine vehicles in the Hertz lot, she said, were damaged.

An Ogden Police Department Facebook post early Tuesday morning said they and fire officials had responded to “multiple structure fires” around 28th Street and Grant Avenue and that power was out in the neighborhood. The traffic light at 28th Street and Washington Boulevard also went out.

The fire caused a power outage to 161 Rocky Mountain Power customers, spokesperson Dave Eskelsen said Tuesday. Six power poles and other equipment were damaged, probably requiring a day-long repair effort, he said. Willis estimates power infrastructure in the area sustained around $100,000 in damage.

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner

A fire late Monday, June 28, 2021, destroyed an apartment building that was being built in the 300 block of 28th Street in Ogden and three nearby homes. This is the aftermath on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Firefighters were on the scene and Rocky Mountain Power crews were replacing damaged and destroyed power lines.

The Ogden Fire Department had issued a statement earlier Monday about the first reported fire in the area, at an abandoned structure north of the apartment complex site. The first fire was reported at 3:40 p.m., causing estimated damages of $250,000 and requiring 35,000 gallons of water to douse. The fire’s cause was under investigation, the Ogden Fire Department said in a news release.

Officials haven’t said whether there’s a connection between the two incidents.

Meantime, area residents and others on Tuesday were trying to get a grasp of the damage and the scale of the incident.

Gallegos said he had been bedding down for the evening when things went crazy.

“I was laying my head down and I heard boom, a big old explosion,” he said. It was the fire and he could feel the heat of the flames from his room, prompting him to quickly get out and away.

Sascha Garner, who was at a friend’s home just a block away, also recalled a loud boom. She looked out and saw the apartment complex on fire. “Get my kids out of the house. That’s all I could think about, get my kids and my dog out of there,” she said Tuesday morning, assessing the aftermath.

Xavier England, who lives to the west of the site, recalls burning embers flying in the sky. “It’s a miracle other homes didn’t catch on fire because there’s all this dry grass,” he said.

Those who saw the fire described enormous flames towering over the homes. The apartment structure had a wood exterior, still exposed because it wasn’t yet done, which may have figured in the intensity of the blaze, according to Willis.

Jerry Preston, owner of Elite Craft Homes in Farmington, said his company was building the apartments, which were to be four stories with 40 units and were still in the framing stage. Framers, plumbers and fire sprinkler installers were working in the building and left the site at about 4:30 p.m. Monday, he said.

Preston said the framers lost their tools and a trailer in the fire, and a forklift owned by Elite Craft also was destroyed.

“And we really feel for the homeowners,” Preston said.

The company hopes to rebuild, but the loss has been reported to insurers, and from there “it’s out of my control,” Preston said.

Firefighters from across Weber County assisted the Ogden Fire Department, including the Weber Fire District, the North View Fire District, the Roy Fire Department and more. “The entire county was on the scene with us last night,” Willis said.

Fireworks have been banned and other open flame restrictions have been implemented in Ogden and some surrounding communities because of the drought and the high fire danger.

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