Northridge Mall fire; Milwaukee leaders frustrated

A string of fires at Milwaukee's former Northridge Mall, the most recent on Wednesday night, has city leaders fed up and calling to tear the building down.

Fire Chief Aaron Lipski said the building has no electricity or gas, and he believes the fires have been intentionally set. Firefighters say the dark, large, empty building can be dangerous when trying to put out the flames.

"If I sound irritated tonight – then you’re hearing me," Lipski said Wednesday. "There are zero smoke detection systems – zero functioning fire suppression systems in this building. This is wildly unacceptable."

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The mall has been vacant for two decades. Lipski said his crews put out three other fires there in July. Firefighters said a fire on July 19 was one of the hottest they've ever fought.

"Gear came out so burned out and smoldered up, it’s probably unusable moving forward," said Lipski.

Thursday, Mayor Cavalier Johnson said communication between the city and Black Spruce Enterprise Group, which owns the property, has only occurred in court.

"That’s a key economic cluster and opportunity on the northwest side, and Black Spruce is standing in the way and have been for some years," he said.

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Court records show Milwaukee issued a raze order in 2019. Black Spruce sued the city to block the order, and it has been held up in appeals ever since. Last spring, Black Spruce told an appeals judge it was "boarding up windows" and hiring "24-hours security."

"If they’ve got 24-hour security at the location, then they should check in with their security firm," said Johnson.

Johnson said it is unclear what Black Spruce wants to do with the property. At one time, the company planned an Asian market. 

Calls to tear the building down intensified after a maintenance worker died on the property doing electrical work in 2019. Lipski now worries about his crew.

"These men and these women have to go into this building, repeatedly, putting their lives in extreme risk, because it has not been properly secured," he said.

Fire at Northridge Mall on Aug. 10

The city filed an emergency motion after the string of fires on the property in July. A judge will hear the case again on Monday, Aug. 15. 

Milwaukee police have made no arrests in any of the fires. FOX6 News left messages with the law firm that represents Black Spruce, but did not immediately hear back.