3-alarm fire guts vacant building in Milwaukee, now investigators seek its cause

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Investigators are now seeking the cause of a three-alarm fire that destroyed a vacant building on Milwaukee's south side early Friday, September 19th.

Firefighters were dispatched to the building near 24th and Vieau Pl. around 3 a.m. It's the former Lao Family Center which is vacant. The building was fully engulfed in flames and spewed heavy smoke from the windows and roof.

Officials say the fire broke out on the second floor of the building and spread to the roof and front of the structure.

"We used our big guns our heavy water streams to knock down parts of the ceiling on the inside on the second story and extinguish fire where we were able to reach," said Deputy Fire Chief Aaron Lipski.

The fire was so intense, a portion of the roof collapsed.

"If you picture across the entire front of the building, which would be the north end of the building, that roof line doesn't exist for about 15 feet back from this front wall," said Lipski.

Once the flames were contained, firefighters moved inside the building to locate and extinguish all hot spots.

"We have had extremely good results from putting our companies back interior they really, really made a very nice push," said Lipski.

Jose Martinez watched the action from his upstairs balcony.

"I just wake up because I hear a lot of noises and I don't know what happen and when I see outside you see the fire," said Martinez.

The fire was contained around 5:30 a.m. Investigators arrived a short time later. The cause of this fire remains undetermined. Because the building is vacant, officials say they must consider the possibility of arson.

"As a matter of course especially with a fire that was this advanced, this large of a building that`s vacant we definitely got to start looking at other causes other than accidental," said Lipski.

If you are in need of a smoke alarm and cannot afford one, please contact the Milwaukee Fire Department to have one installed for free at 414-286-8980.