Urquhart five-alarm fire ruled 'suspicious'

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ--- New Orleans firefighters hose down and inspect the remains of a building fire on the corner of Urquhart Street at Press Drive on Thursday, September 5, 2013.
Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ--- New Orleans firefighters hose down and inspect the remains of a building fire on the corner of Urquhart Street at Press Drive on Thursday, September 5, 2013.

A warehouse and an apartment complex were destroyed Thursday morning in a five-alarm fire on Urquhart Street that the New Orleans Fire Department has ruled “suspicious.”

The complex is owned by the Rev. Fred Morgan, whose derelict rental properties have been cited by the city numerous times.

Firefighters responded at 1:12 a.m. to a blaze at three wood-frame structures near the intersection of Press Street that make up the complex at 2816-2828 Urquhart St. — the site of another fire a month ago. Thursday’s fire spread to nearby exposures and consumed an unoccupied warehouse nearby, according to the Fire Department.

The buildings’ facades were burned but appeared mostly intact after the fire. Beyond the front walls, however, the blaze left only charred ruins.

Entergy New Orleans workers disconnected the properties from natural gas lines as a precaution Thursday afternoon.

No one was injured in the fire, but residents of three occupied doubles nearby on St. Ferdinand Street were evacuated until the fire was under control at 3:23 a.m.

Those structures received minimal damage.

Eighty-one firefighters responded. One received minor injuries. The cause of the fire is under investigation, the NOFD said.

The rundown apartment complex had previously been deemed unsafe for human habitation by the Department of Safety and Permits in July.

The structure has been cited multiple times for various dangerous and hazardous conditions since 2006. According to documents on file with the Department of Safety and Permits, a demolition permit was issued for 2816 Urquhart St. on Aug. 27.

After a fire at the same location Aug. 6, firefighters found at least 10 people living in the building, which had no utilities, but had extension cords stretching into an adjacent building, Fire Department officials said. There was no evidence anyone was living in the buildings when Thursday’s fire broke out, a Fire Department spokesman said.

Morgan, an assistant pastor at True Love Missionary Baptist Church in Central City, did not return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday. Following last month’s fire, he told The New Orleans Advocate that he allows people to stay in the Urquhart Street properties rent-free in exchange for doing odd jobs for him, such as providing upkeep on other properties he owns.