Sugar House fire caused $59 million in damage

A new report describes working conditions hours before the massive fire in October.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The proposed Sugar Alley residences continue to smolder and occasionally ignite near 1040 E. 2220 South at the Sugar House in Salt Lake City on Thursday, October 27, 2022. A newly released Report Compiled by Salt The Lake City Fire Department and Salt Lake City Police Department are narrowing the cause of the Oct. 25 fire to two possible culprits.

Before the fire, Josh remembered the heat.

The sprinkler installer had started his day in the parking garage of the proposed Residences at Sugar Alley development, where he could occasionally sniff the cool October breeze.

But in the hallways of the attached Sugar House apartment building, where he finished his shift, the air was hot and humid—continuously warmed by the large “salamander” heaters placed throughout the site.

Those same stuffy corridors were also lined with “a lot of junk,” he recalled: cardboard boxes, bits of wood and the remains of drywall work, according to a new investigative report released this week.

Several of the 105 people working on the construction of the residential and retail complex that day had complained about the heat, according to the new report, and some even placed plasterboard in front of the doors to try to prevent them from getting inside the units radiate where they were working in.

Others, completely fed up with the heat, kept going out to the terrace that day to cool off under the overcast sky that brought streaks of rain.

However, workers were unable to turn off the heaters – not after a man was yelled at for messing with one, according to the new report. And when workers instead asked supervisors to turn them down, they were repeatedly told not to, the report said.

After everyone went home that night, the building got even hotter as flames ignited and a massive fire broke out, completely destroying the development and suffocating the area in smoke for days.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) A partially collapsed scaffolding of the proposed residences on Sugar Alley continues to burn at the Sugar House, Thursday, October 27, 2022, a newly released report published by the Salt Lake City and Salt Lake City Fire Department Police are narrowing the cause of the Oct. 25 fire down to two possible culprits.

How did the fire start?

The newly released report, compiled by the Salt Lake City Fire Department and Salt Lake City Police Department, includes numerous interviews with workers who worked on the construction of the Sugar Alley residences, all identified by their first names only.

The project was an eight-story residential and commercial development at 2188 S. Highland Drive, in the heart of Sugar House’s CBD. 186 new apartments and several large retail areas on the ground floor of the U-shaped building as well as a publicly accessible atrium were planned. Completion was expected early this year.

The report narrows down the cause of the night The Oct. 25 fire – which forced the evacuation of about 1,000 people in adjacent apartment buildings – except for two possible culprits: the propane-fuelled “Salamander” heaters, and small “spider boxes” placed throughout the site to provide temporary power to workers.

SLCFD’s Captain Shaun Mumedy said investigators also couldn’t completely rule out arson. But authorities found no concrete evidence to suggest the fire – which took one person to hospital for smoke inhalation but otherwise resulted in no injuries – was started intentionally.

“Can we completely and unequivocally rule out arson?” Mumedy told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday. “NO.”

Ultimately, the cause was considered “undetermined,” which is often the result of fire investigations due to the destructive nature of the fire itself, Mumedy said.

This fire in particular is particularly difficult to investigate, he stated. It sparked in the northwest corner of the massive building between the sixth and eighth floors and spread through most of the under-construction development, eventually causing the building to collapse despite smoldering for days — and about $59 million in damage caused. says the report.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The remains of the residences in the Sugar Alley development in Sugar House, on Tuesday, November 1, 2022. A newly released report by the Salt Lake City Fire Department and Salt Lake Police Department Lake City, this narrows down the cause of the October 25 fire to two possible culprits.

Regardless of how it started, the report said the gas supply lines feeding heaters on site were also “compromised” during the fire and “contributed to the spread of the fire and hampered firefighters’ extinguishing efforts.”

A California-based spokesman associated with Lowe Property Group, the Salt Lake City developers behind the complex, said he didn’t know where that damage estimate came from. “Definitely not from anyone who knows our project,” said Ron Cole, a director at Eight Bay Advisors in Newport Beach, Calif., a major financier in Sugar Alley.

He did not say why he felt the damage estimate could be off base and he declined to comment on the report, which was published to The Tribune this week, admitting on Tuesday that he hadn’t seen him.

But he added that there has been “no change in the direction of our reconstruction.”

“We continue to move in that direction,” said Cole. “The demolition is proceeding as planned.”

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism. Sugar House fire caused $59 million in damage

Justin Scaccy

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