Kirk Apartments in downtown Mason City severely damaged by fire

MASON CITY — A fire caused catastrophic damage to the Kirk Apartments at 206 North Federal Avenue in downtown Mason City on Monday afternoon.

Firefighters were called at about 1:30 to the building for a fire in a first-floor apartment, which was under control about an hour later, but smoke and flames started to erupt from the building once again at about 5 o’clock.

Fire Chief Erik Bullinger spoke with KGLO News at about 9:30 Monday night and says he and other investigators were inside the building when they noticed the fire was spreading through the structure.  “The stages of going back through the building looking for an extension to that fire, it actually kind of flamed up as it got kind of a breath of fresh air, some fresh oxygen to it, and actually got between floors, so it was actually traveling throughout the building we assume, and it got to a point where it was actually getting into several other apartment units at the same time. At that time, we had to back crews out and start attacking the fire from the exterior doing a defensive fire attack.”

Bullinger says fire crews were staying at the scene all night and will continue to do so for a time Tuesday morning as they are treating the building as a potential collapse zone.   “Without knowing the structural integrity of the building, especially at night in these conditions, it’s hard to determine if it’s going to stand on its own. We’re keeping most of the crews out of the collapse zone as far as we can, and at this point, we’ll call it almost out, but we’re going to continue pouring water in there just to try to get all the hot spots out.”

Bullinger says while a single apartment was where the fire initially started, it may be tough at this point to immediately determine the cause of the fire.   “We were just getting into that apartment to check things out, and we went in with the fire marshal just to make a preliminary investigation, and we weren’t in there very long, just to get an idea of the origin of the fire, but we weren’t able to do any straightforward investigation of the material. We like to keep it all intact and come back in with our equipment and sift through the debris and usually get a determination, but of course now that’s burned up quite a bit.”

Bullinger says with the condition of the building, he questions whether a cause of the fire will ever be determined.  “Sometimes you can piece things together, but with that amount of collapse in there, it may be to a point where we can’t get back into the building at all, then it will be pretty tough, unless we have maybe some witnesses that were able to piece things together that saw what happened and we can put that puzzle together later, but even then, it can be pretty tough to determine.”

The Kirk Apartments opened in 1903 and was the city’s first luxury apartment building, originally supplying heat, light and water for the apartments with its own steam generating plant before being hooked into the city’s utility system.

The building was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and was a contributing property in the Mason City Downtown Historic District in 2005. The building is owned by Ed Kent.