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Tank explosion causes massive fire in building under construction


IOWA CITY — Part of Burlington Street will stay closed through Saturday as crews work to dismantle and remove the charred and damaged levels of a construction site that caught fire, started by a heater Tuesday afternoon.

Crews will likely have to remove the third- and fourth-floor frames of the Hieronymus Square development, a $41 million project at the corner of Burlington and Clinton streets that was expected to be completed by the fall.

The Iowa City Fire Department said the heater was in a room on the building’s third floor and was being used to warm an area storing several cases of subfloor adhesives — which were combustible.

The liquid propane-fueled radiant heater came in contact with the adhesives, starting the fire, the fire department said in a Wednesday news release. Flames grew and the propane tank started to vent, providing more fuel until it exploded, then strong winds rapidly carried flames throughout the structure, the department said.

The fire caused an estimated $1 million in damage and still is under investigation, the department said.

While work continues to clear damage at the site, the block of Burlington Street between Dubuque and Clinton streets will likely be closed into Saturday, the city said in a news release Wednesday evening. Cranes and other equipment lined the street Wednesday where traffic usually flows through.

“If it comes down, I’m sure it’ll come down quicker than when it went up,” developer Kevin Digmann said, adding that he expects the project to be delayed another 60 days. “They’re trying to get down the damaged structure as quickly as they can so that it’s safe and they can reopen Burlington Street right away.”

The Iowa City Fire Department was called to the Hieronymus Square construction site 314 S. Clinton St. just before 3 p.m. Tuesday. When firefighters arrived, flames were coming out of third-story window openings and quickly spread because of high winds.

The fire created a chaotic scene in downtown Iowa City, backing up traffic and rerouting buses. Detours will be in place while streets are closed, the city said.

No one was injured during the fire, although a crane operator had to wait out the firefight to be rescued. Mist from the fire hoses created slick surfaces on the crane, so a rescue climber attached a safety belt to the operator before he climbed down.

“Obviously it’s a tragedy. We’re just thankful nobody got hurt in this situation,” Digmann said. “We’re going to get right back on it as soon as we can.”

Seventeen fire personnel responded to the initial call about the fire. Other emergency agencies also responded to the blaze, including the fire departments of Coralville, North Liberty, Solon, Tiffin, Lone Tree and Hills.

The fire was under control in about 40 minutes and totally extinguished about 3 1/2 hours after the initial call.

Hieronymus Square is a two-tower, seven-story development originally scheduled to be completed in August. One tower will house 43 high-end condos, with a Marriott Extended Stay hotel in the other.
l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com
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