An increasing threat of building collapse has forced the New Orleans Fire Department to redeploy firefighters outside the six-alarm fire they have been battling for nearly six hours in the 1000 block of Canal Street.
NOFD Superintendent Tim McConnell said firefighters were ordered out of the burning four-story structure shortly before 9 a.m., after reporting that a shared interior wall between the two involved buildings was showing cracks and dangerous signs of compromise. McConnell said firefighting teams have been withdrawn and will combat the flames from outside the buildings, some aiming water hoses from atop tall ladders extended from trucks.
“Now the building is so compromised, we’re not putting anybody in it,” McConnell said. “Collapse is definitely a concern, particularly with the main fire building (at 1018 Canal St.). We’re not able to do any interior firefighting.”
McConnell said the shared brick wall between the first burning building and the one to its left has been heavily damaged as the fire spread.
“The structural beams from these buildings are mounted into those walls,” McConnell said. “As those beams pulled away from the wall, and damaged those thick brick walls, our folks that were inside saw it was damaged and notified us. We went ahead and pulled them back out.”
The age of the burning building was not immediately known, but McConnell said his firefighters’ task was made more difficult because of its age and the materials and engineering within.
“The components that hold structures together are much, much better today,” he said. “The integrity of a building today is much better. The building there was built out of a lot of brick and wood. But an older building has a lot of mass, but it’s not engineered like today’s buildings. The danger of collapse in an older building, once it’s damaged, is much greater than in a modern building.”
The NOFD has been on the scene of the blaze since 3:26 a.m., with 31 units and 91 firefighters responding at last report. McConnell said some firefighters have been relieved by a scheduled shift change. So far, the chief said, only one firefighter has been injured, sustaining a burned hand. He was taken to a hospital for treatment, McConnell said.
Across the street from the fire, the Ruby Slipper cafe was offering complimentary coffee, juice and breakfast sandwiches to the cold and weary firefighters working in the misty, 45-degree conditions.
“The Ruby Slipper has always been part of the community,” restaurant general manager Ethan Gardam said. “If giving free coffee and sandwiches makes these guys’ lives a little easier today, we’re happy to do it. They’re out there risking their lives for all of us.”
Stay with NOLA.com for more on this breaking story.