The Jefferson City Fire Department believes Wednesday's fire at the old Missouri State Penitentiary started because of a training burn on adjacent property owned by the city at 102 N. Chestnut St.
Jefferson City Fire Chief Matt Schofield said fire personnel were assisting with a prescribed training burn when an airborne ember from the burn ignited the previously damaged roll roofing, foam insulation and vegetation on the roof of Housing Unit 2 at MSP.
"It is our understanding that the firefighters were finishing up with the prescribed burn on the hillside when the first signs of smoke were observed from the roof," Schofield said. "This was immediately reported, and additional resources were requested."
Housing Unit 2 was significantly damaged in the May 22 tornado. Officials with the Missouri Office of Administration had earlier reported it could cost more than $3 million to repair the damage.
The Architects Alliance structural engineering report on the damage MSP suffered showed Housing Unit 2 had a steel-framed, nearly flat roof that supported pre-cast concrete planks. The roof was covered with ethylene propylene diene monomer roofing that was covered with lightweight concrete roof pavers, the report noted.
Because of the impact the fire had on state property, the State Fire Marshal's Office was called to the fire scene, the department reported. Representatives from OA and Capitol Police were on the scene early in the incident, as well as staff from the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, which supervises visitor tours at the site. Tours resumed Oct. 1, but Housing Unit 2 is not part of those tours.
Officials with the CVB said Wednesday's fire did not affect tours, and tours are still scheduled through the end of the month.
The Fire Department posted on social media this past weekend that they were doing prescribed burns at MSP.
"On occasion we do assist with prescribed burns, especially when we have personnel who need training," Schofield said. "Additionally, burning on the city side of the MSP grounds has been done previously because of the difficulty in grade and vegetation. We attempted to burn on Saturday and posted to let the public know, at that time the vegetation would not support burning."
Schofield also said the department is considering what more can be done to prevent these types of situations from happening.
"We are currently reviewing this incident as we do all incidents," Schofield said. "We are focused on not letting this happen again and view it as a learning opportunity, as we seek to continuously improve.
"This incident is reminder to all of us that fire is especially hazardous in rapidly changing weather conditions."
The State Fire Marshal's Office is investigating what caused a fire late Wednesday afternoon at Housing Unit 2 at the old Missouri State Penitentiary off East Capitol Avenue.
Jefferson City Fire Chief Matt Schofield said the fire was seen by on duty fire personnel around 4:20 p.m.
"There was visible flames and smoke showing from the roof, and the origin of the fire was on the top of the building," Schofield said.
Ladder trucks were used to get firemen above the roof to direct where water should be used to extinguish the fire, and within a few minutes, the flames and smoke had been doused. However, the ladders stayed up for several more hours to make sure any hot spots were put out on the roof. Later, firefighters did make their way through the structure, looking for any more potential hot spots.
Schofield said he was not aware of any work being done at the building.
"This building was significantly damaged in the May 22 tornado, so any time you have a building with exposed damage, you have to be careful how you handle your response," Schofield said. "We wanted to make sure our personnel and other emergency response personnel are safe."
Schofield said state personnel who have been working around the building said there were holes in the roof caused by the tornado as well as in the floors of the building.
"That made it challenging for us to make sure the fire was fully out," he added.
Off-duty Jefferson City fire personnel were called in Wednesday to make sure the city had adequate fire coverage, Schofield said, and some personnel from the Holts Summit Fire Department were also called into serve as standby crews.
The Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau resumed tours at the old prison on Oct. 1, but Housing Unit 2, where a major riot occurred in 1954, is not part of those tours.
Officials with the Office of Administration had earlier reported it may cost more than $3 million to repair the damage the building received from the tornado.
Constructed on the south part of the old prison site in 1938, OA officials said the building did not have any observed damage to the primary steel-framed structure after the tornado. However, several parapet walls were either leaning or had collapsed, a newer crack ran along the bricks at the southwest corner of the building, and several concrete planks and roofing were damaged, according to The Architect's Alliance structural engineering report on MSP.
The structure had a steel-framed, nearly flat roof that supported pre-cast concrete planks. The roof was covered with ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) roofing that was covered with lightweight concrete roof pavers, the report noted.
The main structure was a five-story steel-framed building with masonry infill walls between the main-frames.