SALINAS, Calif -
UPDATE 3/20/2017 6 p.m.:
Fire investigators returned to Salinas’ Chinatown on Monday to begin looking into the cause of a major fire.
On Saturday, the Republic Hotel, also called the Swinging Door building, was destroyed in a three-alarm fire that brought in some 60 fire personnel and another 20 police and paramedic.
It took firefighters hours to put out the fire, taking a defensive stance because it was just unsafe. Firefighters say they had been to the property a number of times and were familiar with the open floor plan. While the building had been vacant for decades, homeless people living in Chinatown would trespass from time to time.
"The building did not have services,” said Deputy Fire Chief Brett Loomis. “It did not have power, and it did not have gas so obviously there's some type of human involvement in this fire. Whether it's intentional or unintentional, that's what we hope the investigation will provide us."
Resources have been brought in from all over the area. At least two agents with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were observed helping investigators. Mountain View Fire officials also brought down George, a three year old Belgian Malinois, trained to detect human remains. While he initially alerted his handler to something, upon further review, no remains were found.
The 80 year old building is considered a complete loss, but a small victory next door. Winds helped the fire from spreading to the Victory Mission and firefighters sprayed water in strategic locations.
"A lot of questions were asked early on, ‘Why we weren't pouring thousands of gallons of water on this fire?’” Loomis said. “Well, had we done that, the Victory Mission would've sustained significant water damage and possibly been not able to be occupied again, we didn't want to do that."
There were also concerns the weight of the water would cause the building to collapse even more. The roof caved into the second floor and parts of the second floor collapsed onto the first floor. One of the walls collapsed onto the sidewalk on Market Way.
At the Victory Mission, power was restored by Monday while the phones and internet were still down. There was a bit of damage from where firefighters punched a hole in the building’s roof, where heat signatures were detected.
This has been a hard few months for the people in Chinatown.
Earlier this year, a eucalyptus tree came down, affecting operations at Dorothy’s Place. Now, the fire.
The Chinatown Health Services Center said it is seeing an uptick in the number of people coming in because of the fire.
“Hopefully they'll (Victory Mission) be up and running soon because that's what we all need, especially working on this block and working with this clientele,” said Maintenance Supervisor Javier Rodriguez. “They need stability, repetition and they need to be able to have a stable atmosphere."
It was one year ago this week the city came in and cleaned up Chinatown. Fire officials believe it made a difference. Had the fire happened when there were more than 300 people living there, it would’ve been more difficult to get the resources in to battle the fire.
After the fire investigation, the city will work with the property owner, Rann LLC, to demolish the building.
An abandoned building in Salinas’ Chinatown caught fire Saturday evening, creating large flames and plumes of smoke that could be seen for miles.
The fire started just after 5 p.m. near Soledad Street at a building that fire crews have been dealing with for quite some time, according to Deputy Fire Chief Brett Loomis.
“The building has been abandoned for over 20 years,” said Loomis. “We have a long history of trespassing and fires in this building. Knowing the floor plan, we knew right off the bat that this wasn’t going to be a safe fire to put our firefighters into.”
Fire crews were able to save The Victory Mission next door which provides services to homeless people. No one was hurt. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.