Crime - Sacto 911

Fire destroys warehouse slated for renovation in prime Sacramento redevelopment district

An enormous fire early Saturday gutted a vacant warehouse at the corner of 16th and R streets in midtown Sacramento, badly damaging a historic building slated to be redeveloped into a two-block mix of housing, offices and restaurants.

The three-alarm fire broke out at 4:30 a.m. and was battled by 75 firefighters, according to Sacramento Fire Department spokesman Roberto Padilla. Crews were still on the scene hours later as the fire continued to burn and portions of the building collapsed. The building was still smoldering Saturday afternoon, and a firetruck remained at the scene as crews continued to mop up. Crews were expected to clean until dark Saturday and likely return Sunday.

The fire hit the century-old Crystal Ice and Cold Storage building at the southeast corner of 16th and R streets. Flames from the blaze could be seen throughout downtown and smoke filled the early morning air.

Padilla said there were no injuries, but some residents were evacuated and power was turned off. The cause was not immediately known.

The fire ravaged a half-block of the R Street corridor, a former warehouse stretch that has fast become one of the city’s liveliest districts lined with housing, trendy restaurants and artist lofts. The former Crystal Ice building is the site of the $80 million Ice Blocks development, where 150 residential units, 60,000 square feet of retail space and more than 50,000 square feet of offices are planned.

The buildings that make up the warehouse are a total loss, said property owner, Sacramento developer Mark Friedman.

“Money won’t cover what was lost today,” Friedman said. “You can’t re-create the historic character of what was lost today.”

Friedman described the old Crystal Ice plant as a cobble of six buildings supported with heavy wooden beams and structures above redwood plank floors grooved and worn from years of use.

“It had a patina of age and as a result, it had a character that was unique. It was all old-growth wood,” he said. “The floors were scratched, marred and beaten up in a way that gave it this great historic character.”

Friedman estimated as much as 70,000 square feet of space were lost.

Project officials had intended to preserve much of the building’s historic elements and earlier this year praised the warehouse’s extraordinary “bones” and Douglas fir trusses and columns. They were crestfallen Saturday and said the fire would set back their plans, though they stressed they remain committed to the project.

“It’s obviously a significant setback – it’s probably a monetary setback, but there is also a component of emotional devastation that also must be felt,” said Turton Commercial Real Estate owner Ken Turton, who was recruiting office tenants for the site. “This was two years of preserving the blue-collar nature of the Crystal Ice plant. It’s probably something the developer will never ever really get over.”

One of the early tenants planned for the project is Sacramento Republic FC, which plans to open a corporate office and store on the site. Sacramento Republic FC investor Kevin Nagle, who is also a partner in the Ice Blocks project, called the destruction “a huge loss.”

Hours after the blaze broke out, firefighters on ladder trucks high above the rubble continued to soak hot spots, the crumbling building still unsafe for fire crews.

Sacramento Fire Department Battalion Chief Jim Edmiston said determining what caused the three-alarm blaze will be a challenging task. He added that demolition and heavy equipment crews would be called to clear rubble and knock down fire-weakened walls, while aerial photography will help provide investigators with early clues into what happened.

Fire investigator Misty Cole was preparing to get reports from crews, who had arrived to a fully involved fire, flames shooting high through the roof.

The work from there, she said, depends on what they saw and what information she is able to glean from any witnesses to the early morning blaze.

“Normally, I would work from inside, but the building is collapsing,” Cole said. “What everyone saw when they got on scene will lead us (to a cause).”

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis