A historic Omaha Old Market building today is coated with layers of ice after a three alarm fire Saturday. Omaha Fire Chief Bernie Kanger says crews were called to the corner of 11th and Howard Streets just before 3 p.m. after reports of an explosion and fire. A second alarm was called about 45 minutes later and a third alarm around 7:30 p.m. Over 60 firefighters battled the blaze that was called under control around midnight. Fire crews remain on the scene putting out hot spots.
Chief Kanger says, “The only things I can confirm right now. One, there was construction work being done in front of the pub. Two, that there was a gas fed fire at this structure which resulted in the catastrophic events that took place that day and the difficulty we had in extinguishing the fire.”
There are reports that three people suffered minor injuries, including a broken leg from falling on the thick ice that coats the area around 11th and Howard. No firefighters were injured.
It has been confirmed that a sub-contractor was working in front of the building installing fiber optic cables at the time.
Jamie Ishii had worked at M’s Pub for more than ten years and lives across the street. Ishii says, “It sounded like a bomb went off in the Old Market. It was very loud. It shook my apartment. There were flames shooting up from what would be the prep kitchen, the stairway that goes down in front. I saw a bunch of people running from there. It was both people I knew and staff members. They were covered with glass, very upset and disoriented.”
Prominent Omaha Attorney Steve Lefler and his wife lived in the apartments/condos located above the restaurant. He is currently calling a downtown Omaha hotel home until arrangements can be made to relocate. He says he isn’t sure if they will even be allowed back into the building to see if anything can be salvaged. He says if that is possible it won’t be until later this week.
Lefler has been asking questions as to what happened. He says an employee smelled natural gas inside the building and ran outside to confront a sub-contractor working outside. He says, “She came out and said hey, we smell gas. What is going on? One of them said we cut the main. Here is where it gets a little murky. As soon as that happened, all their work stuff was gone. We’ve been told, and if this is true it is almost criminal. We’ve been told that they sat on the information that they cut the gas main for about an hour and fifteen minutes but they didn’t tell anybody.”
The building was constructed in 1900 and M’s Pub opened their doors in 1973. Several floors of the building collapsed, including the roof. There is some damage to nearby buildings. City officials are holding a news conference this afternoon to provide more details about the explosion and fire.