Vacant building fire highlights an 'epidemic' of abandoned struc - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Vacant building fire highlights an 'epidemic' of abandoned structures

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Friday evening crews began tearing down what remained of the building. Source: Vanessa Araiza Friday evening crews began tearing down what remained of the building. Source: Vanessa Araiza

The vacant building that caught on fire in downtown Birmingham could be a symbol for the "epidemic" of abandoned, vacant buildings in the Magic City.

City leaders say they have been asking the owner for years to properly maintain the building, but they've been unsuccessful. Friday, the structure caught fire, essentially destroying what was left. Flames and smoke could be seen from miles away, including atop Red Mountain where the FOX6 New studios are located.

"This particular structure is in a dilapidated state so to speak and the city has been working to get it torn down," Battalion Chief C.W. Mardis said.

While the city asked the owner to bring the former S.G. Bennett building up to code, the walls have literally crumbled. In 2008, the entire back wall collapsed. Then, just last year, there was another wall collapse.

"We've been on the owner to do something about the building and it's unsafe and unstable and they came out and put some tarpaulins on the back but that didn't really do anything," Birmingham Mayor William Bell said.

Mayor Bell says the number of abandoned, vacant structures is an epidemic. But because of the law, city officials can't jump right in and tear down these dilapidated structures.

"Normally if the owner comes in and starts doing work to upgrade the building saying that he's going to put it back into a state of repair that automatically buys him time to come and do what he says he's going to do," Mardis said.

But in the case of this building and others, it's the city that's left to ultimately clean up the mess.

Mayor Bell said that the city is trying to change the law to give them the power to take action over vacant and abandoned structures.

Fire officials say the clean up of this particular fire will take several days and the investigation into how the fire began continues.

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