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Massive warehouse fire in Old North St. Louis fills sky with smoke for miles

Massive warehouse fire in Old North St. Louis fills sky with smoke for miles

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UPDATED at 4:30 p.m. Friday with details about building owner NorthSide Regeneration.

ST. LOUIS — A massive fire engulfed a vacant warehouse in Old North St. Louis on Friday, causing the building to collapse and filling the sky with smoke that could be seen for miles.

About 60 firefighters were called to the three-alarm blaze just before 1:30 p.m. at the one-block-square warehouse at 1600 North 13th Street.

No one was injured and the flames were under control by about 2 p.m., St. Louis fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said at the scene.

Two sides of the building collapsed within five minutes as the fire moved through the building quickly because of the age of the structure and strong wind, Jenkerson said.

A few buildings to the east of the warehouse were damaged from smaller fires started by embers, Jenkerson said.

The warehouse fire came just after another blaze erupted at a vacant dwelling at 1516 St. Louis Avenue less than a mile away. That fire was reported about 12:30 p.m. in a building attached to a one-story warehouse.

That fire was under control by around 12:45 p.m. and crews soon noticed heavy smoke at the larger fire on North 13th, according to the department.

Jenkerson said it wasn’t immediately clear what started either fire or if there was a connection between the two.

Fire department spokesman Garon Mosby said in a video posted to the department’s Twitter page that firefighters had been dispatched to the scene of the 13th Street warehouse several times before for smaller fires.

“It is a bit peculiar that you have this much fire this time of day in a very noticeable area,” he said.

St. Louis property records show that both the 13th Street warehouse and the warehouse that burned on St. Louis Avenue are owned by NorthSide Regeneration, the company started by developer Paul McKee that owns large swaths of north St. Louis.

In 2009, the city approved several hundred million dollars of potential subsidies for McKee’s NorthSide project, which envisioned $8 billion of new housing, retail, offices and other developments in a 1,500-acre area of the city.

More than 10 years later, McKee’s completed projects in the area have been limited to a $20 million grocery and gas station on North Tucker Boulevard finished last year.

The project has been criticized by residents and some city leaders who accuse McKee of letting properties deteriorate and not fulfilling the project’s grand promises.

The fire Friday is the latest in a series of fires at NorthSide properties, including one in 2018 that gutted a nearby abandoned car and repair shop that was being used as a homeless tent community a block away from the North 13th warehouse that burned Friday.

In 2017, another fire at a Northside property heavily damaged a historic home and property built by James Clemens Jr., the uncle of Mark Twain. The Clemens house, at 1849 Cass Avenue, was a Greek-revival style mansion with an adjoining chapel. Twain was said to have visited several times. It became a city landmark in 1971.

NorthSide was also sued in 2013 by an owner of two homes damaged that year in a fire in the 1400 block of Benton Street. The owner claimed the fire started at a vacant home owned by NorthSide and spread to the neighboring buildings. The suit has since been dismissed.

A representative for McKee said he declined to comment on Friday’s fires.

Cheyenne Boone of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Erin Heffernan • 314-340-8145 @erinheff on Twitter eheffernan@post-dispatch.com

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