Monday morning fire in vacant Midtown Omaha apartment building delaying rehab efforts
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - An early-morning fire will delay the rehabilitation of a former midtown Omaha apartment complex.
Construction of the Flora Apartments began in 1914. Plans called for 19 apartments, consisting of studios, one- and two-bedroom units to fill the historic building. For now, those plans will have to hold.
The building’s owner was just three days from starting construction to rehab the building.
“There were efforts by the purchaser of the property to place the property on the National Register of Historic Places, and then to use tax historic credits to rehab the building,” said Omaha City Planner Shelly McCafferty.
But bad luck seems to follow the Flora Apartments.
“We had heavy fire coming from the entire top level, and then we had a lot of fire on the east side from the lower level,” said Omaha Fire Battalion Chief Chad Kinney. “It was a very involved fire upon our arrival.”
The complex was condemned in January 2022 after a city inspection found the conditions to be unlivable. About two dozen tenants were displaced at the time.
A previous fire in June of 2021 forced more than 40 residents out. And in May 2022, after it was vacant, the building was heavily damaged by another fire.
“With it being a vacant building, it was a defensive operation from the start,” Kinney added.” We’re not going to go into this building for any reason afterward because it’s burned before, we’ve had fires here before and the structural integrity of the building is already compromised.”
Battalion Chief Kinney expressed concern about vacant buildings like these.
“We always want to put life safety first, and when we’re in a situation like — this where it’s a vacant building — we need to do everything we can to get people out. But a building like this — we can’t go inside. This building could collapse at any moment, so it limits us and restricts us in how we can do our job. So it’s extremely frustrating having to deal with all these vacant buildings.”
Austin Rader is working to rehab a house a couple doors down from the complex.
“People coming in and out of the building...it’s like homeless people,” Rader said. “It’s a concern because this house has been broken into before and we’re trying to remodel it, and it’s created setbacks. It just kind of puts you on edge when there’s strange characters walking around, and you just never know what to expect.”
The cause of Monday’s fire is under investigation. No firefighters were hurt.
The OFD report estimated the building’s value at $664,100.
The Flora was just approved by the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Board this month to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Engineers will now examine the structure to see if it can be saved.
Reporter Marlo Lundak, Producer Chris Dachille, and Executive Producer Katherine Wiley contributed to this story.
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