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Crews respond to early morning fire at vacant motel in Coralville

(KCRG)
Published: Nov. 12, 2018 at 5:28 AM CST
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The former J&M Motor Lodge on the 700 block of 2nd Street in Coralville was destroyed in an early morning fire.

The fire started at the motel that closed in 2015 at around 3:30 a.m.

Iowa City and North Liberty Fire Departments were called to the scene and extinguished the fire in about 45 minutes. Crews remained on scene until about 9 a.m.

Authorities say fire damage was contained to the north end of the building, but the remainder of the building does have smoke and water damage. A damage estimate for the building hasn't been released.

Fire crews were able to contain a bulk of the damage to the north side of the building. And you can see every day items.

“I see a bunch of beer cans, some socks that look oddly new,” Michael Hernandez said.

People that live near the old motel, say they often see people walking near the building.

“We see people walking around here but it’s one of those things we truly don’t know if anyone was living there, because if you look in there you can see some remnants of stuff,” Hernandez said.

The owner of the property, who chose not to go on camera, told TV9 people have stayed here, unauthorized, since it closed in 2015. At one time, the owner says he saw someone use a grill as a heat source to try to stay warm.

Firefighters are investigating if someone was living in the building at the time of the fire. Whatever the reason community members and authorities say they’re glad no one was hurt.

“There have been some really tragic events that have happened in our community throughout the years,” Shelter House Executive Director Krissy Canganelli said.

Shelter House in Iowa City works to expand its shelter options during the cold months. Recently, it got city permission to house more people in its lobby during the winter.

And on December 3rd, workers will open its low barrier shelter.

“Primarily those folks that are in a chronically homeless cycle. They don’t want to go into existing shelter location, its low barrier meaning we don’t have expectations around sobriety or working with us to address health needs,” Canganelli said.

The executive director is confident they’ll have enough space to house those in need. Experts say it’s for the safety of the entire community.

“Some people have set their campsites on fire to try to stay warm, they’ve suffered burns, let alone the frost bite throughout the year,” Canganelli said.

The owner said there was already plans to demolish the building here, before the fire. A new development will eventually go in its place.