Downtown fire in vacant building causes evacuations from nearby apartments

Crews took a defensive approach while they waited for a demolition permit to tear down the structure.

(Salt Lake City Fire Department) Fire crews work to extinguish a blaze at a vacant building at 220 S 200 E on Saturday, June 3, 2023.

A fire that broke out in a building downtown Friday night caused evacuations at an adjacent apartment building.

Firefighters responded to a report of a fire in a vacant three-story commercial building on 220 S 200 E at about 11:20 p.m. Friday, Salt Lake City Fire Captain Sean Mumedy said. Since the structure was empty, fire crews used a defensive attack against the blaze, which means they do not send firefighters into the structure.

Crews worked to ensure the structure didn’t collapse into a nearby apartment building — the Randi Apartment complex on 218 S 200 E.

“What that also means is a defensive fire tends to burn and be a nuisance for a lot longer,” Mumedy said. “Because we don’t have crews in there, getting to the seat of the fire and extinguishing it, for safety reasons.”

Crews took a defensive approach while they waited for a demolition permit to tear down the structure.

“For the time being our main focus is preventing that from collapsing into the Randi apartments,” Mumedy said. “For the time being we’re keeping that evacuation in place until we can fully mitigate that collapse. Because if that tips over and creates a large opening into Randi Apartments, then it’s just a perfect avenue for fire to spread into those apartments.”

The department initially evacuated units facing the fire Friday night but eventually evacuated the entire apartment building, which contains about 55-60 units, Mumedy said. Right now, the adjacent apartment building has sustained some exterior fire damage — like cracked windows and smoke damage — but there is no interior fire damage.

The American Red Cross of Utah is assisting the 60 people displaced from the Randi Apartments, Regional Communications Director Keith Paul said Saturday. The organization is working with emergency management officials and apartment management to ensure residents have a place to stay if their apartment is damaged.

The Red Cross has also set up a shelter at 110 East Social Hall Avenue with snacks and water for residents affected by the blaze. Individuals who need assistance from the organization should call 1 (800) RED-CROSS, or 1 (800) 733-2767, Paul said.

No injuries have been reported in the blaze. The cause of the fire is under investigation, Mumedy said.

“It’s like partially collapsed — the top third floor of this commercial structure, the exterior walls — most of them have collapsed in on themselves,” Mumedy said. “And there are active hotspots... that due to the collapse of the structural members in there, we just can’t get in there and pull that debris apart. So it’s going to continue to smolder until we can get in there and really demolish and pull some of that structure apart.”

Mumedy acknowledged that this is a “super busy” weekend for the city, with Pride and other festivities occurring throughout the weekend.

“We’re trying super hard to mitigate some of the smoke and keep it at bay as best we can,” Mumedy said.