Search for cause of fire, building collapse near downtown Milwaukee

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Photo: Video by tmj4.com

Search for cause of fire, building collapse near downtown Milwaukee

By the WTMJ News Team. CREATED Jun 21, 2012 - UPDATED: Jun 21, 2012

Click on associated video links for Chopper 4 and TODAY'S TMJ4 raw video from around the fire scene.

MILWAUKEE - Investigators spent Thursday trying to find the cause of a five-alarm fire near downtown Milwaukee at a building that collapsed.

The state fire marshal, the ATF and local fire investigators gathered on the scene of the burned-out building to recover evidence and determine that cause.

The mission to do that could become troublesom.

"Any time you have sustained this much damage in a building, a lot of evidence of where the fire started is destroyed by the fire itself," explained Deputy Fire Chief Randall Zingler.

The investigation was set to last days, if not weeks.

Vliet Street remained closed early Thursday, while the Coggs Human Services Center was to stay closed at least through Sunday.

TODAY'S TMJ4 reports three firefighters were injured or had issues as a result of the fire. 

One had carbon monoxide issues, another fell off a ladder and one more had heat related issues. They've all been checked out by doctors.

The fire was across the street from the Coggs Human Services Center on the corner of North 12th Place and West Vliet Streets.  That building has been shut down until Monday.

Sherrie Tussler was across the street, incise the Coggs Center at the time of the fire.

"It was pretty shocking, frankly," said Tussler, the executive director of the Hunger Task Force.  "It ...was a big building."

Her group operates a self-service center and food pantry in the Coggs Center.  It was to be closed until Monday due to soot and smoke damage.

"I want to reassure people that if they need emergency food, they can call 211 and can get referred to a pantry in the area."

A man who talked to TODAY'S TMJ4's Melissa McCrady said he worked as a butcher in a grocery store called Food Castle that was inside that building.

"We turned on the lights, turned on everything, and something just started sparking," said the butcher in the interview with McCrady.

"When the guy was taking the garbage out, he saw smoke from the side of the building.  It's the only way we found out it was on fire.

"I didn't know what to do...I was like, 'Man, c'mon now, not today.' "

"Still a shock to me, how it even happened...I didn't now what to say, I didn't know what to do.  I'm out of a job...it's crazy because I want to come back to work."

The fire began just before 8:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. 

At about 10:15 a.m., Chopper 4 showed part of the south side of the building that had collapsed.

By 10:25 a.m., three unmanned ladders and a manned ladder were using fire hoses to battle flames on the northwest side of the building.

Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Dan O'Donnell then said at 10:50 a.m. that firefighters were in a controlled-burn mode.

"This building is coming down," a firefighter told O'Donnell.  It did around 11:30 a.m.

Zingler said no people were hurt during the building collapse.

The firefighter who was injured had what Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing described as "slight" injuries, and his injuries came from a fall.

Firefighters had to battle the fire from a defensive position, due to the severity of the fire.

Zingler told TODAY'S TMJ4's Melissa McCrady that there were combustible items inside the vacant building.

"Huge smoke in front of the door," Song Vang, who works in the Coggs building, told Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Jodi Becker.

"You can smell it.  They have the front doors closed so that the smoke cannot come into our building."

Vang said that firefighters were trying to break down part of the building's wall to help in getting smoke out of the building.

"They have hoses right there.  They were earlier hitting the wall to get into the building...they were breaking the top wall so smoke could (escape) the building."

Milwaukee Fire Department staffers told Byman they expected firefighters to be on scene battling the fire for a long time on Wednesday.

"Obviously its a very warm humid day, were going to have to have a lot of people here and a lot of resources, companies in and out to keep them from suffering heat exhaustion," Fire Deputy Chief Zingler further told McCrady.

Suburban fire departments assisted other Milwaukee fire stations when their regular firefighters went to battle the fire at 12th/Vliet.

The fire was visible from I-43 as drivers were heading north or south from downtown Milwaukee.

Smoke was causing visibility issues for drivers.  Drivers were said to be coming to a stop due to the smoke.