More than 20 fire units responded to the Shops at Rivercenter‘s parking garage around 1 p.m. on Monday afternoon, set ablaze while construction crews dismantled a cooling unit with a torch. Smoke spilled through some downtown streets and forced mall visitors to evacuate the Rivercenter lagoon.
One worker was rushed to University Hospital for smoke inhalation after trying to put out the fire and their condition is listed as stable, said San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood, standing in front of the smoldering structure on the 300 block of Crockett Street. No other major injuries were reported.
“We went up there aggressively and came back down with no injuries,” Hood said. “We’re very thankful for that.”
Flames were subdued by 2 p.m., but crews from code enforcement and SAFD were still monitoring the building for possible structural damage, Hood said. For now, crews are steering clear of the structure as the 24-ton cooling unit is still unstable and the parking garage itself has been doused with thousands of gallons of water.
“We’re going to be working with a building engineer to triage that – to figure out when we can move it,” Hood said.
For now, cars parked inside the garage will have to stay put until the structure is deemed safe to enter. SAFD had no estimate on how long that will take. The Shops at Rivercenter remain open as well as the adjacent parking garage on Commerce Street.
A combination of high winds and old building materials contributed to the fire sparked by the construction crew’s Acetylene torch, Hood said. “That’s one of the challenges of demolition … It took off really quickly.”
The cooling units will eventually be demolished and replaced with new models, which were awaiting installation in the lot adjacent to the parking garage on the corner of Crockett and Bowie streets.
Eric Combetta, who is visiting San Antonio this week from New Orleans to “escape the craziness” of Mardi Gras, stood outside the structure after escaping the smoke from the Rivercenter lagoon, where the San Antonio River is channeled into the mall’s shopping area and patio.
“You could barely breathe,” Combetta said. “People were scattering.”
*Top image: A SAFD fire crews sprays water onto the parking garage at the Shops at Rivercenter. Photo by Scott Ball.