Wake County

A month after Raleigh fire, many questions remain

Sunday marked one month since a fire engulfed an apartment building that was under construction downtown, displacing hundreds of residents and causing millions of dollars in damage.

The five-story Metropolitan did not yet have a sprinkler system when it burned down at the corner of West Jones and Harrington streets on March 16. The fire started around 10 p.m. and quickly became one of the biggest infernos Raleigh has seen since the 1920s.

On Monday, the Wake County Board of Commissioners recognized firefighters and their efforts that night.

“We didn’t lose a single person and no one was seriously injured,” Commissioners chairman Sig Hutchinson said. “There was a time not so long ago that a fire like this would have burned down the entire city. We can’t thank you enough for what you did.”

Many questions about the fire, including its cause, remain unanswered. Here’s what we know:

When will investigators determine what started the fire?

Investigators have finished documenting and processing the site of the fire, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said March 24. Evidence was sent to a forensics laboratory.

Because of the fire’s size and the amount of damage it caused, investigators must also collect evidence and gather information “outside the confines of the actual fire scene,” according to the ATF.

It’s unclear how long the investigation will last. The Raleigh Fire Department is leading the effort, with help from the State Bureau of Investigation and the ATF.

Amateur photos appear to show the fire starting on the second floor.

“We are waiting on the results of the investigation which includes analyzing any evidence we have obtained,” said John Boyette, a spokesman for Raleigh. He said the city had no further comment.

What’s happening now at the site?

As cleanup gets underway, crews can be seen using excavators to scoop up piles of rubble and drop it in dumpsters.

Chicago-based Banner Property Management, which was building The Metropolitan, hopes to rebuild but hasn’t set a timeline for doing so.

Banner and its construction company, Raleigh-based Clancy & Theys, weren’t allowed to start cleaning up the site until three weeks after the fire.

“Last week we began the cleanup process from last month’s fire,” the companies said in a statement Monday. “Safety and compliance continue to be our number one priority. We are working closely with the City of Raleigh each step of the way as we clear the site and begin to rebuild the Metropolitan.”

What about the Quroum Center?

Across Jones Street, workers are discarding damaged furniture from inside the Quorum Center, a 15-story mixed-use building that has office space and condominiums.

The blaze damaged the Quorum’s brick exterior and shattered windows. On Monday, workers in hard hats threw kitchen chairs into a chute that runs from the top floor to a dumpster in the parking lot.

Ted Reynolds, who developed the Quorum, said the building sustained $20 million in damage and won’t be ready to reopen for 10 to 12 months.

“If you ask 10 people you’ll get 10 different answers,” Reynolds said, noting that all residents of the 37 units have moved out.

“Structurally, we’re sound,” Reynolds said. “But we had so much water get into the building, plus the smoke and the fumes got the floors and sheet rock. ... We’ll have to replace them.”

What about other nearby buildings?

Along with the Quorum, the fire damaged The Link apartments across Harrington Street, as well as a building owned by Edenton Street United Methodist Church and buildings that were occupied by the N.C. League of Municipalities and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners at the corner of Jones and Dawson streets.

The church’s Bulla Youth Center opened for services a little over a week after the fire.

Nearly 200 Link residents were displaced for two weeks until property managers reopened 140 units on March 31. Grubb Properties, based in Charlotte, is in the process of repairing the remaining 59 units that were damaged by water and smoke.

“We expect it will take at least six months before all those units are available,” said Emily Ethridge, a spokeswoman for Grubb. She said the fire caused more than $3 million in damages.

The N.C. League of Municipalities, which employs about 70 people, is currently operating out of an office on Martin Street but hopes to secure a lease elsewhere downtown in the coming days.

“We won’t be in our building for a long time,” said Scott Mooneyham, a spokesman for the statewide advocacy group.

When will streets reopen?

After the fire, Raleigh closed parts of three streets – Lane from Harrington to Dawson; Harrington from Lane to Jones; and Jones from West to Dawson.

The city doesn’t know how long the streets will remain closed, Boyette said. The streets are not severely damaged, but they are closed to accommodate construction crews.

“Preliminary assessment of fire damage to infrastructure did not show significant damage to asphalt surfaces,” said Mike Rogers, Raleigh’s transportation director. “More followup is needed, but we anticipate some patching work and not a complete resurfacing.”

The Raleigh Fire Department plans to demolish and rebuild three stations to accommodate ladder trucks.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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