Fire-fighting staff still on-scene near the north face of the Tama Building at 300 Jefferson Street in downtown Burlington at 1:00pm Monday, August 6, 2018; the drive-through of Great Western Bank is on the right; photo is looking southwest from the intersection of Washington Street and 3rd Street / Photo credit: Pat Curtis, Titan Broadcasting LLC
The Tama Complex and weekend fire
The Tama Complex has a rich history and heritage, including 11 fires, dating back to its construction in 1895. Located at 300 Jefferson Street and taking up half a block, it almost always has been a centerpiece of downtown Burlington. The Tama Complex includes the 5-story Tama Building, right on the corner of Jefferson Street and 3rd Street, and a near seamless transition into the slightly shorter, 4-story, Eastman Building to the west, next to an alley and Gypsi on Jefferson.
The Burlington Fire Department arrived at the Tama Complex at 10:58pm Saturday, August 4, 2018 for what turned out to be a massive all-night, all Sunday morning and early afternoon, and periodically since fire-fighting effort. At the height of the fire, 53 firefighters from 6 of our local community fire departments, including Burlington, West Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Fort Madison, Mediapolis, and Danville, worked to contain the fire and minimize damage to downtown Burlington. Two firefighters sustained minor injuries. No other injuries have been reported. A woman was rescued from the 3rd floor of the complex immediately after firefighters arrived. The woman’s identity has not been released. There is no official or credibly available information about this woman or the cause of the fire.
Smoke from the fire could be seen from Illinois as folks were heading toward the Great River Bridge to enter Iowa. By 3:00am Sunday, on the north side of Burlington, you could smell the Tama fire on Roosevelt Avenue — over 2 miles away the way the crow flies.
Before the Saturday night/Sunday morning, August 4th and 5th, 2018 fire
If you wondered what the Tama Complex looked like before the most recent fire, here’s a collection of unique photos for posterity. The building was undergoing construction and remodeling that had virtually reached completion. It was set to house Olive Wine, Cobblestone Alley Catering, and Big River Popcorn on the lower level — and 48 apartment units on the upper levels. The complex was slated to reopen in September/October — so it’s a real blessing that apparently no one aside from the rescued woman would have been in there when the fire broke out. In recent months, tours were given regularly — each week. That means additional recent photos from folks may exist, and hopefully they’ll be shared.
During the August 4th/August 5th, 2018 fire
Here’s a stunning Facebook Live video taken by Parker as the fire unfolded in the midnight and 1:00am hours Sunday, August 5, 2018:
Tama Building in Burlington on fire.
Posted by 101.7 The Bull, KBKB-FM on Saturday, August 4, 2018
An incredible time lapse video of the fire taken by Norman Schafer:
Tama Building Fire Timelapse.
Posted by Norman Schafer on Sunday, August 5, 2018
After the August 4th/August 5th, 2018 fire
For some amazing aerial photos showing the extent of the fire damage to the Tama Complex:
How much water does it take to put out a large building fire like this?
Great question — Without bothering overworked fire crews, some of whom remain on-scene Monday evening, August 6th, regarding details of number of hoses, diameters of the various hoses used, water pressure, hours spent fighting a major fire like this… — and how all the variables changed throughout the firefight, I made some assumptions and calculated around 2.5 million gallons of water as having been potentially used to put out the Tama fire and keep it out.
Some of the photos I’ve seen show large-diameter, 5-inch hoses being used — the big guns. Additionally, Burlington Public Works had to increase water pressure. 2.5 million gallons would be 3 and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools — maybe around 10 Dankwardt Park swimming pools. The water is spread out over the hours the fire was fought.
2.5 million gallons of water in one lump sum would look like this:
A building fire burns at 1,100+ degrees. [In the first “After the August 4th/August 5th, 2018 fire” photo above, you can see the severely warped and dangling copper molding on the Tama Building. Copper melts at 1,984 degrees.] Much of the water sprayed on a large building fire evaporates very quickly. Water droplets that instantly vaporize to steam typically take up 1,700 times more space in the air than they do as water droplets. All that steam, water vapor, eventually overtakes the oxygen in an area. Once about half the oxygen is shoved out of a building’s room/an area by steam, the flames disappear in that area — but flames will simply reignite if the area isn’t cooled sufficiently with more water for, in many cases, a very lengthy period of time.
The Tama fire was a monster. For even a much smaller fire, imagine the challenge of being a firefighter with hot, heavy gear having to use his/her skill and expertise on the spot at a moment’s notice to put the right amount of water in the right places as quickly as possible — and not so much as to cause unnecessary water damage. It’s a job with a debt we can never repay to firefighters and police officers and first responders.
We’ll all have to stay tuned for that. I know some people already are worrying it’ll become a parking lot. I would bet on something great. The Hopefully Yours building at 617 Jefferson Street is a new structure, the first new building along Jefferson Street in 40 years — and it was designed to beautifully fit into the historic downtown landscape. It looks like it’s always been there. Somebody will have a vision for Tama. Hope springs eternal.