OKC luxury apartment complex destroyed by fire

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From an aerial ladder, a firefighter battles a large blaze in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. The massive fire engulfed an empty five-story apartment complex in northwest Oklahoma City that was under construction, fire officials said. (Photo by Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman via AP)

OKLAHOMA CITY — A five-story luxury apartment complex slated to open this spring near Nichols Hills was destroyed Tuesday night by a rooftop fire that challenged dozens of firefighters who responded in strength.

The $65 million, 325-apartment complex was under construction at 6161 N. Western Avenue across from the Chesapeake Energy Corp headquarters. and is considered a total loss.

No injuries were reported in the five-alarm blaze, which brought more than 80 firefighters to the scene.

“When the building started to collapse, we pulled all the firefighters from inside,” Oklahoma City Fire Department Captain Scott Douglas said. “It made access to fire more difficult.”

The massive blaze consumed the entire roof of the complex, which was believed to have been on fire when the first crews arrived around 7 p.m.

Firefighters changed shifts at 7 a.m. Wednesday and continued to spray water from above into the structure. By mid-afternoon, the smoke had turned from black to white and traffic was moving normally along Western Avenue and NW 63rd Street.

Known as The Canton at Classen Curve, the development was a collaboration between Oklahoma City-based Humphreys Capital and Houston-based international real estate firm Hines.

“We are devastated by the loss of the Canton at Classen Curve project. At this time, we do not know how the fire started,” builder CMSWillowbrook Inc. said in a statement Wednesday. “The building was not occupied since the project was under construction. … We are extremely grateful to all of our firefighters and first responders for their long hours and dedication.

“There was a fire on the roof when we got here,” fire battalion chief Benny Fulkerson said. “The roofing material involved was a kind of rubbery material that doesn’t come off easily with water once it’s on fire. It was just melting and building up and kept burning and it spread very quickly on the roof of this big building.

Douglas said it was a common roofing material used for flat roof structures.

Fulkerson said another roof construction material, described as a foam-like material, was also involved and may have helped spread the fire.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, he said.

“I am so grateful to our Oklahoma City Fire Department,” Mayor David Holt said. “I can only imagine the challenge of safely putting out such a massive fire, but they are consummate professionals and they do it.”

Firefighters had to deal with several problems to fight the blaze. The standpipe system – designed to deliver water to upper floors and allow firefighters to attach hoses to them for use – was not operational. Concrete work was incomplete, which limited access to the building by some of the fire engines.

“The size of the building made it very difficult,” Douglas said.

Fulkerson said fire personnel met with development officials, including a structural engineer, to come up with a demolition plan for the building.

A demolition company will begin systematically dismantling the structure over the next three days to allow firefighters access to the many areas with smoldering or active fires, he said. The plan is to demolish the majority of the building, which may take more than three days, he said.

The upscale development sits on a property adjacent to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Classen Curve retail stores and restaurants. Those businesses were looking forward to the many new tenants expected to move in this year who would be potential customers, Shane McWhorter, general manager of Classen Curve-Nichols Hills Plaza, said in November. McWhorter could not be reached Wednesday.

There was no damage to Ellison, a boutique hotel located at 6201 N. Western Ave.

“We have been open for two months. We’re just starting to get the sea legs,” said Carrie Parker, director of sales and marketing for The Ellison, on Wednesday.

“We’ve got some smoke, but we’re doing fine,” Parker said. “We’re just trying to keep tabs on what’s going on and keep our guests and associates safe.”

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