Finding the cause of the fire can take weeks

As smoke lingered in the air, firefighters continued to work at the scene of a devastating blaze that left the apartment project called The Canton at Classen Curve in ruins. (Photo by Jennifer Sharpe)

OKLAHOMA CITY — It could take investigators weeks to uncover the cause of the massive fire that destroyed a five-story complex under construction at 6161 N. Western Ave., if they find the answer, authorities said Friday.

Captain Scott Douglas said the five-alarm fire that destroyed the luxury apartment complex on Tuesday night started on the roof. Investigators looking for the cause had to wait for demolition work to gain access to parts of the building.

Douglas said it would likely take investigators three or four weeks to complete their work. It is possible that after all this the cause of the fire will be deemed “undetermined”, he said.

Initial demolition was expected to take about three days, but demolition crews will need several weeks to clear the site, said Weston DeHart, president of CMSWillowbrook Inc., general contractor for the project.

“It’s been extremely difficult,” DeHart said Friday. “We’ve never had any major losses on any project.”

The only thing that comes close was helping the Canadian Valley Technology Center client respond and rebuild after a tornado demolished the El Reno campus in 2013, he said.

The $65 million, 325-apartment complex – known as The Canton at Classen Curve – was being built in three phases.

“We were weeks away from completing the first phase,” DeHart said.

The entire project was to be completed this summer. The development was a collaboration between Oklahoma City-based Humphreys Capital and Houston-based Hines.

A spokeswoman for Hines said Friday they had no comment on how the project was insured or for what amount.

Previously, project officials said no decision had been made whether or not to rebuild.

Hines is a global property investment, development and management company that has been developing properties in Oklahoma City since 2010. The company has worked on the Devon Energy Center and Bank of Oklahoma buildings downtown. The Canton was the company’s first multi-family project in Oklahoma.

Humphreys Capital is a private real estate investment firm that acquires, develops and operates industrial, multi-family, office and commercial properties. Its local projects include the urban neighborhood of Wheeler District, just south of downtown, and The Edge apartments located in Midtown, adjacent to historic Heritage Hills.

The City of Oklahoma City has no bonding or insurance requirements on commercial construction projects, spokeswoman Kristy Yager said. City inspection records show no issues with the project, she said, and the city has no financial connection to the development.

When firefighters responded to the blaze around 6.30pm on Tuesday, Battalion Chief Kyle Durham was the incident commander. “The position of incident commander has changed many times since this is an ongoing incident,” Battalion Commander Benny Fulkerson said Friday.

Fire Chief Richard Kelley was among more than 80 firefighters at the scene. The chief and other command staffs respond to fires designated as three or more alarms to assist in support roles or fulfill other functions such as public information, Fulkerson said.

The fire caused very little disruption to businesses surrounding the development, said Shane McWhorter, general manager of Classen Curve-Nicholas Hills Plaza.

The boutique hotel Ellison and its restaurant Milo were exceptions. Management issued a notice on Thursday saying both were temporarily closed.

Brandon D. James