Fire at former Richmond school building under investigation

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Fire investigators are looking into the cause of a massive building fire that broke out overnight.

It happened around 12:45 Friday morning in the 2200 block of Venable Street near Churchill and Mosby Court.

Fire crews tell us it started in the basement and quickly spread to the second floor.

The building is a former school and is used by homeless people.

You can see all the damage here at the building in the daylight. In fact, when fire crews first arrived at this massive fire, we're told flames were shooting out of the second floor window.

You could see from our Troutman Sanders camera, a huge plume of smoke just billowing over Richmond.

We're told this abandoned building and is owned by a nearby church. Philandus Williams is a longtime parishioner there. "It's sad. It's really sad that something like this happened."

Williams say the church uses the building often-- including for an upcoming back to school event. But now those plans may change after this fire that started in the basement.

Fire crews say the fire started near a wall in the basement and quickly spread up through those walls into the second floor.

Investigators say no one was inside the building when crews first arrived, But they found bed and other evidence, leading them to believe at least a dozen or so people were living there recently and not living in healthy conditions.

"Because there is no water, they have been using the facilities where they find them, mixed with the water we put in there, it has created a pretty disgusting mix," says Capt. William Martin with the Richmond Fire Department.

That mix, ended up settling in the basement. So city crews had to bring in a tanker truck to pump out the dirty mess floating in about a foot of water.

That wasn't the only challenge. The owner was told to board up the building after some recent fires here.

But it was boarded up so well -- crews had a tough time attacking the fire at first. "They used a lot of axes, a lot of force a lot of energy and power tools to get in, break in and enter the building," adds Capt. Martin.

Also, with the homeless unlikely to tell investigators too much -- we may never know the exact cause of this overnight fire.

Now, the owner of the building is expected to work with the city again to make sure it's boarded up and secured.

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