The unfinished, five-story Metropolitan building on nearly 2 acres at West Jones and North Harrington streets, near the Glenwood South restaurant and bar district, ignited around 10 p.m. Five alarms for help to battle the blaze were sounded over the next two hours.
"The building is half built. It's all stick," a man who called 911 to report the fire told a dispatcher.
"This is going to be up, and it's going to be huge," the 911 caller said, adding that flames were already 20 feet in the air.
The 274,000-square-foot building was made primarily of wood, Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath said during a Friday morning news conference. The building had been inspected 50 times, including most recently on Monday, he said, and it was up to code and had passed each inspection.
McGrath dismissed the idea that the building's wooden structure was dangerous.
"Any building that's being built is vulnerable at some point," he said. "Unfortunately, this building was at the stage when it was extremely vulnerable, before sprinkler systems got in, (before) fire-resistant walls were put up."
Firefighters were still working to control hot spots Friday evening.
"It's layered, and it's burning underneath," McGrath said Friday afternoon of the pile of burned wood left by the fire. "We have to make sure all of the fire is out before we can declare the area is safe."
Investigators have not yet been able to get to the building to determine the cause of the fire, and there was no estimate on the cost of the damage.
Raleigh police were on site much of the day, trying to determine if the fire had been set, and teams from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the State Bureau of Investigation joined in the effort.
"We thank the heroic firefighters and all first responders who risked their lives to contain this fire and that no loss of life occurred. While the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, we are working closely with authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and review of the incident," building owner Banner Real Estate Group and general contractor Clancy & Theys Construction said in a statement. "To our neighbors and to the surrounding community, we are saddened by this unfortunate situation and ask for your patience as the investigation continues and as we begin the process of site clean-up."
Largest fire in decades
Raleigh historians said the five-alarm fire was the largest in the city in 90 years based on the size of the response, according to McGrath. Officials said 130 firefighters from the city and around Wake County battled the fire through the night.
One firefighter was injured by falling glass, according to officials, but the injury was not considered life-threatening.
"I want to thank Raleigh’s first responders for their heroic efforts in protecting the public during last night’s destructive fire. I am grateful that no serious injuries have been reported, as this could have been a significantly more tragic event," Mayor Nancy McFarlane said in a statement. "We were reminded of the dedication and skill of our first responders as witnessed when Raleigh firefighters worked tirelessly through the night to first contain and then extinguish the blaze. Raleigh police supported evacuation efforts and maintained a safe perimeter, and county partners supported the emergency response.
"I would also like to thank the community organizations and businesses that have opened their doors and offered food, shelter and support to first responders and all of our residents displaced by the fire," McFarlane said. "Please join me in keeping the first responders and impacted residents in your thoughts and prayers as our community recovers from this devastating fire."
Several downtown Raleigh streets remain closed, and hundreds of customers were without power.
Duke Energy crews had restored power to as many customers as possible, but fire crews have kept them away from some heavily damaged areas, spokesman Jeff Brooks said. A construction crane that collapsed during the fire also took out some power lines in the area. A repair crew remains on standby to restore power to other areas as quickly as possible, he said.
Charter Communications crews haven't been able to get into the area to assess damage to the fiber-optic lines that carry the company's cable, internet and phone signals, spokesman Scott Pryzwansky said. So, it was difficult to estimate how customers were affected and how long repairs would take, he said.
Nearby buildings damaged
About 10 nearby buildings were damaged by the fire, including six floors of the neighboring 204-unit Link apartments and 17 floors of the Quorum Center condominium and office high-rise, according to fire officials.
Developer Ted Reynolds, who built the Quorum Center more than a decade ago and lives on the 15th floor, said he noticed his curtains were glowing when he turned out the lights late Thursday, and when he stepped out on his balcony to see what was happening, he saw flames shooting into the sky over his head.
"I didn't know what to think," Reynolds said, "but I didn't want to stop to talk about it. I wanted to get out of the building.
"Thank heavens we managed to get on the elevator before it cut off because she [wife, Peggy] couldn't have come down the steps," he said.
He said Clancy & Theys President Tim Clancy "was clearly disturbed by the whole thing" when he called Reynolds Friday morning to check up on him.
Nationwide Insurance has already set aside $5 million to $7 million to cover damage claims on the Quorum Center, Reynolds said.
McGrath said Friday afternoon that his department was assessing the structural integrity of the buildings so that they could allow residents back inside over the weekend to retrieve some belongings. Because the fire alarm and sprinkler systems have been damaged, however, the buildings are uninhabitable for the foreseeable future, he said.
Construction on the Metropolitan began in 2016 and was scheduled to be finished by the end of this year. Plans called for 241 apartments, including studio, one- and two-bedroom units.
"I saw a huge explosion from a car up there, a lot of sparks falling down," said Ian Martin, who saw the fire as it was burning. "I even saw some ashes on the roads, like it's been raining ash."
"I've just been looking at it," said Jeff Woodward, another bystander downtown who saw the fire. "It's incredible the amount of buildings that are burning over there. There's cars exploding up in the parking deck that are burning. I've never seen anything like this before."
The sight of the flames lapping at the night sky brought people to downtown. For Raleigh residents, the scene of familiar buildings burning was almost surreal.
"You see these places every single day," said Tim Mertes, who was also downtown. "To see them on fire is definitely something else."
MONSTROUS FIRE DESTROYS APARTMENT BUILDING IN DOWNTOWN RALEIGH
A huge five-alarm fire destroyed a six-to-seven-story apartment building under construction in downtown Raleigh Thursday night.
The fire ignited shortly before 10 p.m. at 314 W. Jones St., where the Metropolitan apartment complex was still being built.
Stunned Raleigh residents and visitors poured out onto sidewalks and streets as the massive blaze filled the area with heavy smoke. The smoky haze is expected to linger for days.
"It was massive. It looked like the entire block was one fire," a downtown business owner and resident named Patrick told ABC11's Angelica Alvarez Thursday night.
The blaze forced the evacuation of nearby businesses and residential buildings, as well as road closures.
Eyewitnesses said it appeared the fire ignited on the second floor, though police and fire officials have not yet made such a determination.
No one was living in the building, but there are numerous buildings nearby, including other residential apartment units.
A crane used at the construction site collapsed minutes after firefighters arrived.
By 1 a.m., the fire was under control with crews still spraying the burnt structure with water to extinguish any hot spots.
The fire was so large that the smoke was visible on First Alert Doppler XP.
The wood construction of the Metropolitan apartment complex made fighting the blaze challenging.
"They immediately tried to put water on it but as they approached they noticed it was a lot of heavy fire," Raleigh Fire Department Assistant Chief Brad Harvey said. "Especially under construction. The wood is not protected and the fire moves very rapidly. We're very fortunate tonight."
Jason, who lives directly across the street from the construction site, said he got a little concerned as he saw what began as a small fire quickly escalate.
He told ABC11's Joel Brown that he was at a downtown Raleigh establishment and tried to return to his apartment because he was worried about his dog.
"I tried to make my way back into the building and I couldn't get back in, the police and the fire department were evacuating people and they wouldn't let anyone else back inside," Jason said.
Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory tweeted late Thursday night: "Sec. Kluttz and husband got out of building near #RaleighFire. God bless the firefighters and first responders. Praying for their safety!"
Clay and Hugo, a couple of Peace University students said they had to park off campus when they were returning from the gym because the streets were blocked off.
The two students said lots of friends and co-workers were calling and texting them to make sure they were OK, a scene repeated countless times in downtown Raleigh on Thursday evening.
Some people who lived south of the building were bringing in items from their balconies and watching out for hot embers blowing toward their homes.
Eyewitnesses told ABC11 it took only a few minutes for the fire to develop into a massive blaze that engulfed the building.
"I heard a bunch of sirens," one woman who lives nearby told ABC11's Joel Brown. "I looked around me and everything was orange."
Conner, another downtown Raleigh resident, told ABC11's Joel Brown the "flames were pretty intense and pretty hot, and the whole building went up in about 10 minutes."
A church on the corner of Salisbury and Hillsborough streets offered to shelter anyone displaced by the fire.
The cause of the fire is not yet known.
Displaced residents can get into fire-damaged apartments Saturday morning
RALEIGH, N.C. — Downtown Raleigh residents forced to leave their homes as fire raged on Thursday night can meet at Raleigh City Hall Saturday morning at 8 a.m. to be escorted back to their apartments to pick up belongings.
But it could be months before those residents return for good, Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath said.
McGrath said crews would escort residents Saturday to safely gather some belongings, and that they should expect some water and smoke damage, but most possessions should be salvageable.
Ten buildings just east of Raleigh's Glenwood South entertainment district were damaged when a high-rise under construction went down in flames Thursday night. The heat from the fire, which totaled the building that was to be The Metropolitan, toppled a construction crane and melted windows in condominiums of the Quorum Center and the Link apartments.
"I looked out the window and said, 'Oh my gosh, have you called 911? We’ve got to call 911,'" Sherri Henderson said.
She and her husband stayed in their ninth floor condo at the Quorum Residences until the heat cracked their windows.
The Metropolitan, the property under construction bounded by Harrington, Lane, Dawson and Jones streets was to house more than 200 apartments. By Friday morning, it was a pit of wet ash, and glass shards from broken windows blanketed the streets around it.
At least three buildings were evacuated as the fire raged. More than 205 apartments and 37 condos were damaged across three buildings.
"The fire department did an excellent job evacuating the building," said John McInerney of Talis Management, which operates the Quorum Center. "All the residents were evacuated, all the pets were evacuated. No injuries."
Still, he said it could take months to fix damaged units and make them livable again.
Six floors of the nearby 204-unit Link Apartments were damaged, and 17 floors of the 44-condo Quorum Center were partially damaged, according to fire officials.
"There are still shards of glass hanging from the windows. There’s standing water on the floors," McInerney said.
The League of Municipalities building sustained damage to five floors.
Banner Real Estate Group and Clancy & Theys Construction Company, The Metropolitan's owner and construction company, respectively, released a joint statement thanking firefighters and asking for patience while authorities investigate.
“We thank the heroic firefighters and all first responders who risked their lives to contain this fire and that no loss of life occurred," the statement reads. "While the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, we are working closely with authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and review of the incident.
"To our neighbors and to the surrounding community, we are saddened by this unfortunate situation and ask for your patience as the investigation continues and as we begin the process of site clean up.”
Officials with the Red Cross said they were helping about 40 people who needed a place to stay. People who were affected by the fire can call the Red Cross at 919-231-1601 or go to the office at 100 Pear Tree Lane.
Others found temporary shelter at area hotels. The Hampton Inn at Glenwood South, the Holiday Inn on Hillsborough Street and the Hampton Inn on Hillsborough Street all reported hosting fire evacuees.
Kevin Gicovi, a resident at the Link, said he was getting ready for bed when the fire started. He could feel the heat from the flames before he and everyone else in the apartment packed up what they could and left.
If we had not woken up, if something had gotten worse, we wouldn't be sitting here talking about it," Gicovi said. "It was definitely a scary moment."
Henderson said the help of neighbors was a bright spot in an otherwise dark experience.
"We all look out for each other. We all care a lot about each other," she said. "It’s just been really heartwarming to see how we’ve all come together."