22 Richmond, Virginia Buildings, $20 Million In Damages

Richmond has begun assessing the cost of its most devastating fire in decades, with one estimate exceeding $20 million to repair the damage to an area the city regards as a showcase for urban revitalization

Code-enforcement officials will determine early next week which of the condemned buildings will have be torn down and which can be repaired.

City tax appraisers also plan to begin inspecting the area for damage. "We will go out and make some inspections and see how much damage was done versus how much the market value is," said Interim City Assessor Richie McKeithen. "It will probably take us a week or more depending on how much is messed up."

Insurance investigators also toured the area yesterday and took photographs of damaged properties. "It's probably going to take days for all that to be totaled," said Lt. Ronald K. Faulconer, a spokesman for the Fire Department.

Jamison declared a state of emergency for the area Friday. He said the declaration will help the city recover the costs of responding to the fire from the state and federal governments.

He said the fire could have resulted in a "huge disaster," had it not been for the cooperation between public utility crews and city workers. "When you have that kind of a fire that moves fast with 20-plus mile an hour winds and it if were to ignite any facilities with gas, you could have had an explosion that could have been dramatic," he said.

Richmond firefighters said they received the first alert at 12:32 p.m. Friday from Emerald Construction Co., one of the firms working on the site.

More than 200 fire, police, and emergency workers responded. Fire companies came from Chesterfield, Henrico, and Charles City counties to either help fight the fire or back up Richmond firefighters occupied with the blaze. The effort involved more than 50 pieces of firefighting equipment.

A half-dozen fire companies remained at the site overnight yesterday and soaked the burned building throughout the day to allow cranes eventually to begin removing the debris.

Owners of the damaged properties were not able to secure their buildings until yesterday afternoon. One owner, who would not give his name, used a small generator to run a power saw and cut plyboard for his fire-gutted buildings on Broad Street at its intersection with Goshen.

"I'm sorry it was such a catastrophe," he said, "but I thank the dear Lord nobody was hurt."

Staff writer Michael Paul Williams contributed to this report.