Six-alarm fire on Canal Street impacts businesses

Valeria Kawas

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During this busy Carnival season, four different parades march past the site of a six-alarm fire that took place Wednesday, Jan. 27. While the parades aren’t altering their route, shop owners and others were severely affected by this fire.

At 3:22 a.m. Jan. 27, a fire was reported to the New Orleans Fire Department. The fire engulfed a four story commercial building on the 1000 block of Canal Street between South Rampart Street and Roosevelt Way. The fire progressed through the morning into a six-alarm fire. According the the website City News, a six-alarm fire refers to the severity of the fire but also the number of vehicles and personnel needed on the ground.

Timothy McConnell, fire department superintendent, said more than 90 firefighters and 30 emergency vehicles worked on the fire for over nine hours.

“Buildings on the first floor were businesses and closed, and the upper floors were unoccupied in the early morning. It was the hard work of the NOFD that contained the fire before it spread,” McConnell said.

Before 7 a.m., the fire was under control, but for the next 72 hours, the buildings were put on “fire watch,” meaning that four-hour shifts of firefighters from various stations kept the area damp, and watched carefully for any small fires that might reignite.

David Heath, a businessman in town for a conference, was staying near by at the Hilton Garden Inn on Gravier Street. He awoke to the smell of smoke in his hotel.

“First thing I think is that there is a fire in the hotel. I went around outside and checked the rooms,” Heath said.

Heath, a frequent visitor to New Orleans, then called the front desk and was told there was a big fire on Canal Street.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. Obviously they said it was a pretty big fire,” Heath said.

Michael Jabbar, the owner of Athlete’s Foot, which is the only shop on the block left standing, but has severe damage. He said that he isn’t sure what will happen next.

“It’s very bad damage, they may have to knock the building down. I don’t know how we’re going to survive here,” Jabbar said.

Especially with Mardi Gras coming up, Jabbar isn’t sure how his business will stay open.

“It’s very bad luck for us. This time of year is when we pay our bills,” Jabbar said.

Jabbar has yet to hear from insurance companies regarding his claim. There is severe smoke and water damage within his store.

Next to his store, there are currently large barricades being erected to prevent passersby from getting too close to the building. The lead contractor on the site, Mark Mueller, has been hired to secure the location.

“They asked us to build a wall around the three structures all the way out into the street and block that off,” Mueller said. “With Mardi Gras parades coming up we want to secure the front of the sidewalk so no falling debris hurts anyone.”

There will be eight-foot high barricades around the structure, despite it being deemed stable by the city.

During Mardi Gras each year, four different parades, amongst them the “Super Krewe” of Endymion, ride down Canal Street past this site.

The parades will not be altering their course for the coming Carnival season. However, there will be barricades around the site until well after the holiday.

Darren Denley has been arrested in association with the start of the fire. The 25-year-old was booked on charges of burning trash improperly and crossing police lines.

McConnell’s office reported that Denley set a fire in the alcove of a business on the block to keep warm, and it extended into the structure, going unchecked for almost two hours.

Re-building at the site will most likely be unable to take place until the New Orleans Housing Department and the State Department sign off. Also, according to Mueller, structural engineers will need to evaluate the location, along with the historical significance of the site, before any rebuilding takes place.

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