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Dubuque building burned down in fire had been issued city code violations for years

Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 9:34 PM CDT
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - The fire that burned down a building on Clarke Drive on Monday evening rocked the neighborhood.

“We were eating dinner and I look out the window and I am like, ‘Holy crap!’” Tyler Garrison, who lives in the neighborhood, said.

Another neighbor, Robert Fuerst, said that the massive amount of flames looked like a volcano.

“I have never seen a fire like that out of control ever before,” Fuerst said.

Even though the fire might have been impressive, what was not surprising, according to Fuerst, was that the building at 590 Clarke Drive was the one that burned down.

“I was not too surprised because this house, it always had a lot of stuff cluttered around it,” Fuerst said. “It looked like anything could have set it off.”

City officials said the building had been receiving city code violations for at least 12 years.

According to city officials, in 2008 the Dubuque Fire Department was called to the location for a medical emergency and they noted the third floor had been under construction and not completed, which made it unsafe. Officials say, when they were trying to deal with the medical call, they noticed there were not even lights installed. Aside from that, paramedics had found electrical issues as well.

Alexis Steger, the city’s housing director, said they had only been issuing minor violations recently, which means there were no life-safety issues.

“When it comes to the exterior side we had several complaints over the years for garbage, trash, accumulations to the exterior of the property, so those were the ones that we have been enforcing recently,” she explained.

Steger said the owner had been doing a good effort at keeping the property clean, especially during the past couple of weeks, but she said it was a never-ending issue.

“We have been called several times where they would remove the trash and they would comply with the order and eventually, about a week later, it would accumulate again,” she added.

In this case, Steger explained they would issue municipal infractions, which is the authority the city has. That goes through the courts, but this year, in particular, there has been a catch.

“With COVID, that was taking quite a long time, so we do have some pending municipal infractions that were on that house for the trash,” Steger said.

The city had named the building at 590 Clarke Drive a nuisance property, which means the building had several municipal infractions happening at one same time. Steger explained that categorization alerts them to every complaint that comes in so they can start enforcing right away regardless of whether it crosses departments or not.

According to Steger, city officials had been consistent in keeping tabs on the outside of the building and ensuring it was as cleaned as regularly as possible. However, getting inside the building was much more complicated because of the law.

The last time city officials inspected the inside of the building was in 2018, but Steger said they were hoping to get back inside soon.

“We did have orders out for being a non-licensed rental, so we were working through the courts on it was no longer a licensed rental property and we did suspect that they were renting to some people as well as living in the structure,” Steger said. “That would have allowed us to be back interior to look again at those violations that had happened in 2018 that were minor.”

Steger added, though, that with the last inspection being so recent, the department felt comfortable that the interior could not have deteriorated drastically in such a short period of time.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire.

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