BREAKING NEWS

Blaze heavily damages Hieronymus Square construction site, closes nearby areas in Iowa City

Iowa City crews fight a fire at Hieronymus Square in downtown Iowa City on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (Benjamin Roberts / Freelance for The Gazette)
Iowa City crews fight a fire at Hieronymus Square in downtown Iowa City on Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (Benjamin Roberts / Freelance for The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — A crane operator unable to get down from his rig waited for nearly two hours as emergency crews battled a fire raging below at the multimillion dollar Hieronymus Square development Tuesday afternoon.

Fire departments from Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty battled bitter cold temperatures and strong wind in getting the fire that began just after 2:30 p.m. mostly contained by around 4 p.m., City Manager Geoff Fruin said in an update posted on Facebook by Iowa City Council member Rockne Cole.

Once the fire was out, a rescue team was able to help the crane operator to safety — the team provided a safety harness to prevent him from slipping on the crane tower, slick with mist from the firefight, and he was able to climb down on his own, Fire Chief John Grier said. The man was not injured in the blaze, Grier said.

During and after the fire, downtown Iowa City came to a halt near the development at the corner of South Clinton and East Burlington streets. City officials closed part of East Burlington — one of the busiest streets in downtown and a main artery through town — overnight Tuesday.

Burlington Street would likely be “closed for the night and possibly longer depending on the structural stability of the site,” Fruin said.

The fire was first reported about 2:48 p.m. Flames were coming from the third-floor windows of the construction site when crews arrived and it began to spread because of the wind, Batallion Chief Brian Rohr said. Firefighters were still looking for hot spots inside the structure around 4:30 p.m.

“On a construction site, I can’t recall the last time (they responded to a large fire),” Grier said. “It’s been quite awhile to have one of this magnitude on a construction site.”

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Grier said he was not aware of any injuries and was unsure of the extent of the damage, adding that the cause still is under investigation.

The $41 million Hieronymus Square development was scheduled to open later this year. It’s slated as a two-tower, seven-story complex with 43 high-end condos in one tower and a Marriott Extended Stay hotel in the other, with a rooftop terrace to connect the two buildings.

Messages for project developer Kevin Digmann were not immediately returned Tuesday evening.

Erin Williams, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Iowa, said she got a Hawk Alert about the fire around 3 p.m. while in class. She said she could smell it from the College of Nursing building, about a half-mile northeast on the other side of the Iowa River. She said two emergency response workers who happened to be in her class had to leave to respond to the fire.

Kellina Kapinski, 20 and a junior at Iowa, said her class was canceled when nobody was able to get there on time because traffic around downtown was at a standstill during the fire.

“The building had two floors of concrete, and the half along Burlington Street had two floors of wood framing,” Fruin said in the message posted by Cole. “Luckily, the wood framing construction had not commenced near the Hilton Garden Inn.”

The Hilton Garden Inn is another new high rise adjacent to the Hieronymus site.

East Burlington Street between South Clinton Street and South Dubuque Street are scheduled to be closed overnight, according to a news release from the city. Because of the closure, several downtown bus stops were also being rerouted.

The Court Street Transportation Center and ramp was also closed, according to the release. The Dubuque Street parking ramp is open.

Reporter B.A. Morelli contributed to this story.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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