Businesses cleared to reopen after Ybor nightclub fire

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Most of the businesses near the Amphitheatre have been allowed to reopen, according to the Tampa Fire Rescue. A three-alarm fire broke out at the nightclub, located on E 7th Avenue in Ybor City, Wednesday evening.

The two businesses right next door to the nightclub, the Jazz Club on the east and Nicahabana Cigars to the west, must still remain closed, firefighters said.

“The Fire Marshal lifted the orders to vacate for those unaffected businesses earlier today,” firefighters said.

MORE: Crews battle Tampa nightclub fire

The two businesses that are still closed will be allowed to reopen when the walls between them and the Amphitheater is “structurally sound,” according to the Tampa Fire Rescue.

“Once the Fire Marshal receives the signed report with that recommendation, he will lift the order to vacate and allow entry into those businesses,” firefighters said.

Firefighters also said 7th Avenue will likely be reopened Friday afternoon.

After Wednesday’s fire, the Tampa fire marshal had determined that a structural engineer needed to evaluate the building that had caught on fire. Fire officials also ordered the businesses between 16th and 17th streets to vacate in an abundance of caution.

The order to vacate was issued to ensure the safety of the building tenants and visitors along 7th Avenue.

Firefighters remained on scene Thursday morning.

Crews spent six hours overnight battling the fire at the two-story brick building. Even though they had the fire under control by 1:30 a.m., a few crews stayed to make sure nothing sparked again.

According to Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Thomas Forward, two firefighters were taken to the hospital as a precaution. He expects them to be okay.

Fighting the fire

The fire started around 7:45 p.m. Wednesday. It spread throughout the structure. The automatic sprinkler system turned on but was not enough to extinguish the fire.

“Because of the way the fire came in and the old structure with multiple decks and ceilings, it’s what I call a nuisance fire,” Forward said. “The building made it tough for our firefighters to identify exactly where the fire was.”

Nearly 20 units and 50 fire personnel responded to the fire. Three workers were inside the building at the time the fire started. They safely escaped.

The fire chief estimates crews dumped about 2,500 gallons of water every minute while fighting the blaze. Crews kept the fire contained to the one building, but neighboring businesses, including the Jazz House, sustained damage. Eric Flemming, the Jazz House’s owner, ran out in a panic and left his keys and phone.

“I didn’t know where the smoke was coming from and then I realized it was next door,” Fleming said. “So I’m inhaling it just doing the best I can to get out.”

Forward says it could’ve been much worse. He’s glad more people weren’t hurt and more businesses didn’t sustain damage.

Welder is to blame, officials say

Officials told News Channel 8 a careless welder caused the fire. That welder is an unlicensed contractor named Robert Shawn Rogers who was installing a disco ball in the nightclub. Rogers was drinking, sources say, both before and after the fire.

Sources also told News Channel 8 Rogers was laughing as the building was engulfed in flames.  And, while he did not want to answer our questions, his arrest record speaks volumes, including charges of cocaine possession and grand theft.

8 On Your Side found Rogers wandering the streets of Ybor shirtless Thursday afternoon. He advised us to call his attorney if we had any questions.

Meanwhile, Ybor businessowner Yanko Maceda explained Rogers has a reputation in Ybor as a drinker with bad conduct.

“This is my business. I have employees, and I have responsibilities. I would never hire him. Everyone knows what he’s like,” Maceda said.

Multiple patrons and business owners maintain that Rogers works for vouchers to buy food and booze.

Rogers is unlikely to face criminal charges. The investigation is ongoing, but the case will likely make its way to civil court.

Fire chief praises his crews

The chief praised his men and women.

“Their perseverance is noteworthy,” Forward said. “We literally had to pull them out to send them to rehab because they wouldn’t leave until this thing is absolutely wet, cold and completely out.”

Investigators are still investigating the cause of the fire.

Morgan Page was scheduled to perform at the Amphitheatre Saturday. The show was cancelled.

“I was saddened to hear the awful news about the fire at Amp Tampa. It’s one of my favorite clubs to play. We’re working on figuring out when I can come back to Tampa to make up for this cancellation,” Page wrote on Facebook.

Fire brought Ybor City to standstill

If you want to see a snapshot right out of life in Havana, Tabanero Cigars is about as authentic as it gets. The small-scale, intimate cigar-rolling business and coffee shop in Ybor hosts a row of tobacco work stations. Employees roll 150 cigars a day, handcrafted with love.

Thick, bulging canvas bags of leafy, jagged tobacco leaves sit inside. It is Maceda’s dream come true, which came heartbreakingly close to a disastrous nightmare Wednesday night. A too-close-for-comfort three-alarm fire broke out just feet away.

Maceda’s eyes fill with worry and concern as he looks around his business, inspired by passion and joy.  “This is my life’s work,” he told News Channel 8 Thursday. “It really is my dream.”

The massive fire brought Ybor City to a standstill. Sick, dense smoke filled the air as 7th Avenue was shut down completely.

Onlookers watched in curiosity, shock and bewilderment, as firefighters worked in dangerous conditions to contain the raging flames. The firefighters’ main concern was to make sure that, first and foremost, no one was hurt. Secondly, they wanted to ensure that the fire did not spread to nearby businesses.

In the end, residents in Ybor, along with business owners, praised the efforts of Tampa Fire Rescue as the blaze was contained to the historic Amphitheater.

People in Ybor are extremely upset by what took place, with multiple jobs and dollars lost during this event. Inspectors and fire officials worked diligently to help ensure safety on Thursday so the businesses could reopen a head of a busy tourist weekend.

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