Inspector recommended building be condemned days before massive fire

Firefighters responded to Bowdoin Street around 3 a.m. for a fire that ultimately went to three alarms and damaged four homes. (Corey Welch/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A city inspector recommended the building at 110 Bowdoin St. be condemned just days before a wind-swept fire broke out.

The report – dated Jan. 3 – said the inspector, Bill Monaco, found “no heat, no running water, owner is operating a boarding house,” and added that the inspector was issuing an “intent to condemn.”

“House was a mess,” Monaco wrote. “Occupants were running space heaters, numerous propane torches throughout dwelling, debris on every floor including basement, open electrical panel in basement.”

A fire broke out at the property just three days later, in the early morning hours of Saturday. A body was pulled from the rubble on Monday morning after a person was still reported missing.

The report said “occupants were complaining of constant electrical issues, frozen pipes, and they were seeking help from the Red Cross.” Ominously, Monaco went on to say: “Tenant from third floor states they would not help unless there was a fire.”

The inspector wrote that the office was closed on Thursday, likely due to the snowstorm, and he was out of Friday, so he would write the report up on Monday.

Target 12 interviewed Roland Colpitts, who lived in the building. He said he emailed pictures of the conditions inside the home to the city on Dec. 20. using the city’s PVD311 app.

“I took photos the way the wiring was in the basement,” Colpitts said. “I would have to go to the basement 20 to 30 times a night to turn on breakers because they were being so overloaded with all the electrical heaters and there was faulty electricity to begin with.”

The Providence Fire Department has not officially released a cause of the blaze, which ultimately spread to three other buildings. Colpitts said he’s upset the city didn’t act faster.

“It’s my belief they should have shut the house down right then and there because they were aware how bad the conditions were,” he said.

Victor Morente, a spokesperson for Mayor Jorge Elorza, said a city hall representative reached out to the tenant after the Dec. 20 submission but did not get a response. Following a second notification by the tenant to PVD311 on Jan. 1, the city sent out the inspector the following day.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said condemning a house “takes time.”

“We have to bring them to housing court,” Pare said. “We don’t unilaterally just condemn a building unless the structure is unsafe. If the condition is pretty deplorable we can move pretty quickly. When they’re not, there’s a due process where the owner’s notified and has a period of time to abate some of these issues that are in violation of our code.”

Providence tax records show the property is owned by Dexter Jackson. Reached by phone, Jackson told Eyewitness News he almost died in the fire, and claims the fire didn’t start in his building.

Investigators disputed that, telling Eyewitness News Monday that the fire started at 110 Bowdoin.

“That house was fully engulfed when they arrived on the scene,” Pare said. “That’s where we believe the origin of the fire began.”

Morente said Jackson lived in the home and was receiving a owner-occupied tax rate. Jackson was home when Monaco found the violations, and informed the homeowner the city was going to move to condemn the property.

“If there is no response or action taken by the landlord soon after, the city takes legal action and goes to court for condemnation,” Morente said. “Typically this type of action is taken within 24 to 72 hours, but due to the storm the inspector filed this Monday.”

The house has had a checkered history with the city, including numerous violations for garbage around the property and orders for issues to be repaired. The city began fining the homeowner $150 a day for three violations under the state’s lead abatement law.

Steph Machado and Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook