A spectacular fire last night in a building that is part of a row of businesses at South Avenue and Spencer Street produced roaring flames that lit the night sky and thick smoke that blanketed the area.
Throngs of people were drawn to the blaze. No injuries were reported.
"What we have is a very contained, hot fire. When it breaks through, it's going to come out hot and heavy," a firefighter radioed his colleagues about 30 minutes after the blaze was reported at 9:45 p.m.
A short time later, it did just that.
First units arriving at what was then just a smoldering two-story structure in the 1400 block of South had difficulty locating the source of the blaze. The building housed a karate school and a lawnmower repair shop.
Next to it is Rosie's Automotive, Steve's Diner, and Bogarts bar. Above the businesses are an unknown number of apartments.
As firefighters continued to search, they became concerned about reports of explosive-type materials, including the possibility of acetylene tanks, stored inside the lawnmower shop, as well as their inability to find where the blaze was actually burning.
About 20 minutes after the initial call, firefighters were ordered to evacuate the structure and mount an outside attack.
About the same time, a call for a second alarm was sounded.
A short time later, the rear roof of the structure collapsed.
Firefighters reported having trouble getting water onto the fire.
Rosie Godwin, owner of Rosie's Automotive, looked on helplessly as the flames neared but had not yet touched her business.
"I've got a Jaguar in there. I've got a [BMW] in there. I've got over three grand worth of tools in there. My whole life's in that building," she said.