I don’t pretend to know a lot about the situation, but I’m looking at the transcript of a 2019 unsafe building hearing, and it looks like they saw a lot of the risk. My understanding is that, in the interim, the property was sold at tax sale and the City acquired the property from the County. The City or the previous owner may have done work to mitigate some of the hazards since 2019, but clearly some (or all) of the risk remained!
From the 2019 transcript:
MR. GARDNER: So on the properties that’s listed (inaudible) today, they’ve done an incident pre-plan from the fire department’s perspective on resources needed.· Some of our concerns on these is access in and around the structures.· Let me back up here so you understand what I’m talking about. So in getting access around to the rear parts of the structure, this right here is a railroad track, which renders it impossible just about to come in the backside here.· This is Northwest F Street.· From this aerial photograph, there’s no access to the sides of the building.· And this is continued through all the properties. We look at fire flow, fully involved, gallons per minute needed, resources needed, water available, evacuation areas, depending on wind direction.· It’s a multi-agency possibility with, you know, the health department, emergency management, local departments outside the City of Richmond.· Looking at toxins and stuff like that. And the way we do this is by this and also in recent history of incidents throughout the country or around the world.· And in the recent years — the past couple years, there’s been a fire at a storage recycling facility in Australia that had a lengthy fire ground operation upwards to close to two weeks of that. There was one in Parkersburg, West Virginia, that lasted for over eight days.· The one in Australia was June this year. We look at the after-effects and we look at runoff of contaminated water from the suppression efforts.· And then we also look at the lack of fire protection and fire detection.
In a situation like this with the 358 building, it was designed and intended with a suppression system and a detection system.· Those work to get ahead of the game if a fire did occur. With no detection system, that’s a delay in notification, meaning that it could possibly be through the roof, through the windows, or whatever before somebody called it in.· A suppression system is designed to suppress the fire and slow the spread of fire once detected.· So, therefore, with no detection system, we don’t have that or fire protection system and it allows that fire to grow more rapidly than (inaudible).
MR. HEETER:· So there’s nothing to contain it and then you don’t find out about it very quickly, it sounds like?
MR. GARDNER:· Right.·
·MR. HEETER:· Are there other properties that are around it that you would consider in danger in that case?· I mean, it’s spreading, you know, to businesses or other properties?
MR. GARDNER:· Anything in the immediate area.· It’s weather-dependent, also.· You know, wind travel, wind speed, you know, that plays into it.· If it’s contained in the building or it’s on the lot, you know, all of that, it’s all taken into effect.· And depending on the size of the fire (inaudible) then would determine what we determine would be an immediate threat.
MR. JORDAN:· 358 is a Type 1 structure that’s been used as a business without any utilities.· I mean, the sprinkler system is down.· I mean, it’s got —MR. HEETER:· That’s the one with the fire suppression system — that’s been gutted?
MR. JORDAN:· It has.· And, you know, by the rules of the commission, you know, for him to occupy that building, he should have electric power.
MR. HEETER:· It doesn’t have power at all?
MR. JORDAN:· It doesn’t have — any electric.· The sprinkler system should be up and running.· All the emergency — lighting should be on.
MR. HEETER:· It’s a safety issue for the community, not just the neighborhood,
Again, that’s all from a hearing on September 24, 2019. (It was later filed as an exhibit in a 2019 case challenging the orders of the City’s Unsafe Building Commission.) My understanding is that the owner of the recycling operations had maybe acquired the property from an outfit called Hoffco Comet, which made lawn and garden equipment. Back in 2009-2010, they lost John Deere as a customer and shut their doors. According to information in the hearing transcript, they (or whoever owned the building at the time) had salvaged the copper in the building, including the sprinkler systems before abandoning the structure.