‘The timing was just terrible’: Why the sprinkler system didn’t activate at RISE Doro apartments

The fire that destroyed the RISE Doro apartments in Downtown Jacksonville sparked just days before the final inspection that would have allowed the building’s sprinkler system to be activated.

“The timing was just, it was terrible,” Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Chief Keith Powers said. “No fault of anyone’s. It’s a timeline thing, and the timeline just wasn’t there yet.”

Powers said the brand-new luxury apartment building was scheduled for its final sprinkler pressure inspection this week, ahead of the first eight tenants moving in this weekend.

According to JEA, the fire line, which is an independent, dedicated service for the fire suppression sprinkler systems, had its water connected on Oct. 12.

“There had to be a pressure test that was done right before the building was going to be open. That was going to happen this coming week before residents started to move in,” Mayor Donna Deegan said. “That pressure test had not yet been done so the sprinklers were not yet turned on.”

The fire began Sunday night, with a 911 call coming in around 9:30 p.m. Firefighters believed it was under control by 11 p.m., but within an hour the blaze had reignited.

It sent smoke billowing across the St. Johns River for hours on Monday as firefighters worked to control hot spots that kept popping up because of void spaces that hadn’t been sealed yet during construction.

“Because of those void spaces, you’re talking about that fire was able to travel in those void spaces and move throughout that building and we just could not get ahead of it,” Power said. “A lot of it’s got to do with it being in the construction phase and some of those void spaces aren’t sealed up and fireproofed yet. But it ran through the building and that’s why we had to pull them out because it became so unsafe.”

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The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but city engineers have declared the building unsafe and it will have to be torn down.

In the meantime, surrounding streets and businesses in the “collapse zone” will remain closed. The collapse zone is 80 feet from the building in each direction.

The eight tenants scheduled to move in this weekend were offered alternative places at other RISE properties throughout Jacksonville, and some of them have taken RISE up on the offer, President Greg Blais said.

“We are going to be working with the folks who had planned to move in to try to find other places for them to live,” Deegan said Monday.

RISE, the company behind the East Adams Street building, has six apartment complexes in its portfolio in the Jacksonville area, including the Doro.

RELATED: A brief history of RISE Doro apartments, the $67M downtown complex that caught fire before opening | What’s next for the downtown apartment building marred by devastating fire? | Wood-frame construction, like what was used in RISE Doro, is common in Florida because of its cost. But there are risks

There’s also RISE Julington, RISE Bartram Park, RISE Baymeadows, RISE Glen Kernan Park, and RISE at Nocatee. RISE Glen Kernan Park and Rise at Nocatee are 55-plus active living apartment complexes.

RISE started in Valdosta, Georgia, but relocated its headquarters to Jacksonville in 2022.

Before the fire sparked Sunday night on the sixth floor, the RISE Doro Apartment was accepting applications for new tenants with the building expected to be completed in March.

It had just added a rooftop pool in September.

Apartments.com listed rent for $1,475-$3,200 with units ranging from studios to two bedrooms.

The company’s CEO told the Jacksonville Daily Record in 2022 that the 247-unit project at RISE Doro was expected to cost $67 million and be completed in the summer of 2023. But now, the immediate concern is keeping the building from collapsing.

RELATED: RISE developer says he ‘absolutely wants to see a rebuild’ after fire destroys Downtown apartment complex | Deegan: Massive sports complex apartment fire a ‘setback’ for downtown development, housing woes

Blais said the company has a long process to navigate but wants to rebuild Downtown.

“We chose to move the company to Jacksonville to make the commitment to be Downtown. We still have that commitment strong in our hearts,” Blais said. “We want to be Downtown, and we absolutely want to see a rebuild happen.”

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