06/08/17 10:15am

The structure now being finalized at the once-on-Cleburne-St. Cleburne Cafeteria’s space at 3606 Bissonnet St. is notably bigger than the single-story building it’s replacing — a 2-story steel frame went up around the beginning of February, and the restaurant is shooting to open in its newest home by the end of the summer. (The view included here of the old building shows it just shy of the restaurant’s 75th anniversary, last spring; the shot up top shows progress on the new building just shy of the fire’s 1-year anniversary in late April.) Other reasons why this round of recovery has taken longer than the 3-month closure that followed the restaurant’s 1990 fire at the same address: Owner George Mickelis tells Katherine Feser this week that (relatively) new regulations and inspection requirements have drawn out the process, too.

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From the Ashes Near West U
06/02/17 12:45pm


The partially ruined former Jefferson Davis Hospital nurses quarters at 1225 Elder St. — until very recently in the running for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places — was recommended for demolition at last week’s Harris County Commissioner’s Court meeting following a public hearing the day before. The building, tucked west of the elevated freeway tangle where I-45 splits from I-10 near Downtown, would have joined the nextdoor former Jefferson Davis Hospital itself on the historic registry — instead, it looks like the structure will finally meet meet the ‘dozers after its long slow decline, accelerated by damage from a fire in 2013 that lead to last year’s semi-collapse.

Next door, the 4-story hospital structure (built in 1924, and replaced by 1938 with another Jefferson Davis Hospital where the Federal Reserve building now stands on Allen Pkwy.) cycled through various modes of use and disuse until its early 2000’s restoration into the Elder Street Artist Lofts, which serve as low-rent apartments and studios for artsy types. That redevelopment, of course, involved carefully digging around the dozens of unmarked graves turned up on the surrounding land, which beginning in 1840 had served as the second city cemetery (and as the final resting place for a hodgepodge likely including  Confederate soldiers, former slaves, victims of the 1860s yellow fever epidemics, people who died in duels, Masons, and a variety of others). The hospital’s name is still carved above the lofts’ entrance:

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First Ward Fire Damage by HFD
05/03/17 4:45pm

On Monday a reader noted some changes to the well-spotted storefront formerly occupied by Kate Spade New York, facing Drexel Dr. in the Westheimer-straddling Highland Village shopping center. The store name is now a mere shadow of its former self, and an employee reached at the location’s former phone number this afternoon tells Swamplot that the branch has closed for business. The space’s mirror-backed neon unibrow (the replacement for the one that caught fire back in 2015) looks to still be hanging around for now, but the windows have been papered over (presumably to provide a bit of privacy as the space gets changed.) There’s still a Kate Spade down the road a few blocks — the one that was tapped to trade its old Galleria locale for a place in the new wing.

Photos: Swamplot inbox (top); Amanda W. (bottom)

Westheimer Coverup
04/24/17 12:45pm

RAIL CAR OF ‘NONHAZARDOUS’ MATERIAL BLOWS UP BY THE RAILROAD-THEMED HARDY YARDS SITE Fire Fight near Hardy Yards, Near Northside, Houston, 77009Union Pacific gives KHOU the answer to yesterday’s entry in the semi-regular citywide game of what’s-that-mysterious-cloud-of-smoke: a railcar loaded with lithium batteries headed to a recycling plant, which caught fire and exploded early Sunday evening. The blowout happened on a stretch of tracks skirting the southern edge of the former railyard now being redeveloped into the Hardy Yards mixed use area (complete with artsy homages to the land’s brownfield past). The explosion cracked walls and took out some windows at at least one house nearby on Chapman St. south of the tracks, in the strip of otherwise-mostly-industrial properties north of I-10 between N. Main St. and the reincarnating Elysian St. bridge. Nobody seems to have been seriously injured; the exploding batteries themselves are technically considered non-hazardous material, a Union Pacific spokesman notes. [KHOU; previously on Swamplot] Photo of yesterday’s firefight near Hardy Yards: Air Alliance Houston

02/09/17 5:00pm

Grass fire near Guy, TX

Yesterday’s wind-exacerbated grass fire (pictured above) near Wolfgang and Barek roads near Guy, TX, was put out as of late last night, per the Needville Fire Department’s social media team’s recounting of events. The late-night snuff-out wrapped up around 10:30 and reportedly took crews from Needville, Damon, Richmond, Fairchild, Rosharon and the U.S. Forest Service about 6 hours. The fire occurred about 10 miles west of Brazos Bend State Park, itself scheduled to be partially set ablaze on purpose this morning.

The Needville department (which last August had to petition Nintendo to remove its building from the area’s list of Poké-stops) snapped these shots of last night’s blaze:

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Guy on Fire
12/08/16 12:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: FURTHER READING INTO YOUR HOUSTON FLOOD AND FIRE CHANCES Jan 2017 FEMA Special Flood Hazard Zone classification changes“Every home is susceptible to flooding. There are not ANY non-flood areas. There are only homes that are more likely to flood and homes that are less likely to flood. The likelihood is expressed, on flood maps, by the single-year probability of being flooded (with some other factors). This does not properly describe the likelihood of being flooded during the course of a longer time period — of, say, a 30-year mortgage. Homes eligible for NFIP preferred flood rates can have up to just less than a 1 percent chance of flooding annually. These ‘preferred areas’ are what the public thinks of, euphemistically, as non-flood areas. Assuming a .009 probability (just less than 1 percent), a home has a 20 percent chance of flooding, at least once, over the course of a 30-year mortgage (look up binomial probability). An alternative way to think about it is that 1 in 5 homes, in preferred flood zones, will flood over the course of a 30-year mortgage. [In that case,] you are actually more likely to experience a flood than a house fire in a ‘preferred flood area.'” [Jardinero1, commenting on Where Houston Floods Outside the Flood ZonesImage of recent flood map revisions: FEMA RiskMap6

11/21/16 10:30am

Burned Fuzzy's Tacos, 138 W. Gray St., Fourth Ward, Houston, 77019

That warm glow early Sunday morning on the edge of Fourth Ward turned out to be a major fire at the eastern W. Gray outpost of Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. The blaze is now under investigation, with an eye for possible arson — a manager at across-the-street Oporto Fooding House and Wine told KHOU that security cameras caught sight of a car parked outside the closed shop just before the start of the fire, somewhere around 5 AM. The upstate taco chain opened the freshly roasted branch in January in the 1940’s house formerly housing bar and barbecue joint Hefley’s (a little less than 2 miles down the street from the Fuzzy’s now lurking in the back of the River Oaks Shopping Center).

Standing around in the background of the west-facing shot above: the Dolce Living apartment complex under construction on the north side of W. Gray on either side of Bailey St. A few other angles captured yesterday by a reader on the scene show the newly reconfigured profile of the taco shop’s roof:

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Soft Tacos Overdone
11/17/16 11:30am

Smoke from Holmes Recycling Plant Fire

The fire that started late yesterday afternoon at the Holmes Road Recycling Center (just west of 288 south of 610) is still on the Houston Fire Department’s list of active incidents at the moment, after about 19 hours.  KHOU reports that the firefighting has been complicated by the need to cool off the heat-retaining piles of burning scrap metal on the scene, as well as a lack of water supply in the industrial patchwork around Pierce Junction. Hazmat crews reportedly say there’s no out-of-the-ordinary chemical concerns related to the smoke this time, though HFD captain Ruy Lozana did note to KHOU last night that the smoke’s strong smell and darker color is probably from leftover fluids in crushed cars catching fire.

Wind coming primarily from the south and southeast pushed smoke and haze from the fire across 610 all the way to the Texas Medical Center, some 3 miles north. Nearby Rice University sent out an alert around 4:45 warning folks with respiratory issues to stay indoors for a bit — below is a view (from several hours after that warning) of the haze from the Rice campus parking lot on Greenbriar, east of the stadium:

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Blowing In the Wind
10/11/16 3:45pm

Memorial Conoco Car Care, 13202 Memorial Dr., Wilchester, Houston, 77079

The Memorial Conoco Car Care station at Memorial and Wycliffe drives is now fully back in the swing of things following the shootout and subsequent fire at the station over Memorial Day weekend, a reader notes. The station reopened its garage for repair and maintenance services within about a week of the May incident, during which police and a SWAT team faced off with a gunman who had begun to unload an AR-15 on passers by. The shooting spree resulted in 2 deaths (including the gunman), 6 injuries (including 2 officers and an armed guy mistaken for another gunman), and the gasoline fire that burned down the fuel pumps and canopy; the reader reports that the station is back to dispensing gasoline as of last week. That’s a new peaked canopy visible in the background over the sign shown above — here’s what the old one looked like:

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Tanks Full on Wilchester
09/09/16 2:45pm

THE CASE OF THE SPECULATIVE RUBE GOLDBERG-STYLE LONG DISTANCE HOME ARSON ATTEMPT Meanwhile, in Kerikeri: Gag orders surrounding a set of insurance fraud and blackmail investigations have recently expired, bringing to light details of New Zealand investigators’ suspicions that British expat Chris Robinson may have burned his own house down while out of town in 2013. Investigators of the fire, which destroyed Robinson’s multi-million-dollar home and Mercedes, found burn marks suggesting a flame accelerant, as well as records of a remote login to a home computer on the night of the fire. Traces of the software program used to access the home machine were found on Robinson’s travel laptop, though he deleted the program the morning after the blaze. The investigators eventually presented a proof of concept video in court demonstrating one theoretically possible method of starting a fire remotely: the investigators cued a printer to print, which pulled down a sheet of paper which was taped to a string, pulling a switch that caused a small heating element to set some matches on fire (enough to ignite the accelerant that appeared to have been splashed around the house). The case fell apart because investigators didn’t produce evidence of a sent print command; though the insurance company still won’t pay out for the house, Robinson was acquitted. He did, however, lose an associated court case over an attempt to blackmail the insurance company; during sentencing, the judge took into consideration a previous UK conviction for posing as an Irish priest to solicit-slash-extort donations to a nonexistent charity. [Stuff via The Independent]

08/24/16 10:30am

La Tapatia, 1749 Richmond Ave., Montrose, Houston, 77098 La Tapatia, 1749 Richmond Ave., Montrose, Houston, 77098

The Richmond Ave branch of La Tapatia at the corner of Woodhead St. is back in operation this week after the late summer toasting of its 1969 building, a few readers report. Up top is a shot of the July 22 response from the Houston Fire Department (whose Station 16 is located a convenient half-block away across Richmond at the corner with Dunlavy St.). That’s Fairmont Museum District looking on worriedly from the background; the poop-scrutinizing Richwood Place apartment complex’s older half would have had a clear view of the action from the western turret. 

Photos: Marcie Newton (top), James Glassman (sign)

Where There’s Queso, There Was Fire
07/07/16 5:30pm

Spring Branch tributary after Laverne St. Fire

A Houston Chronicle attempt to get more info about the surprise chemical warehouse fire that turned Spring Branch Creek blood red earlier this year has been denied by the city, writes Matt Dempsey this week. The city has reportedly appealed to the state attorney general’s office to block the records request, as well as the paper’s broader request for “the name and address of every facility that files a hazardous material inventory form.”

The early May fire spread from a residence on Laverne St., igniting still-unquantified amounts of still-unnamed chemicals stored at the Custom Packaging & Filling warehouse behind it — a business that didn’t show up on the list of storage facilities the Chronicle was able to compile from local emergency planning groups, after the city and state blocked a previous request for similar info last year. The blaze left some firefighters with chemical burns and respiratory issues, and left stretches of nearby waterways decorated with festive biohazard signs and oil booms as the EPA did what they could about the mixture of pesticides and whatever else was killing the fish that drained from the site.

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Knowing Your Neighbors
06/24/16 11:15am

Avenue Grill, 1017 Houston Ave., First Ward, Houston, 77007

Avenue Grill, 1017 Houston Ave., First Ward, Houston, 77007 The holdup on Houston Ave. this morning, reports a reader stuck in the resulting traffic, is the aftermath of a minor fire at the Avenue Grill on the corner with Center St. The 1940s structure (which the restaurant’s operations purportedly moved into in 1962 after 12 years of business across the street) appears unharmed by the flames, which HPD tells Dale Lezon started in the building’s electric sign. The restaurant’s property went stealthily onto the market back in August of 2014 before it was found out the following March; county records don’t appear to show a change of hands since then.

Photos of fire response at Avenue Grill at 1017 Houston Ave.: Swamplot inbox

What’s Cooking in First Ward
05/16/16 12:30pm

Renderings of townhomes at 815 W. 24th St., Houston Heights, Houston, 77008

Above is a rendered
view of the Skyline on 24th townhomes at 815 and 819 W. 24th St., a couple of which burned down on Friday evening after a nearby dumpster fire reportedly spread. The Skyline site backs up directly to part of the Shady Acres location of C&D Scrap Metal Recyclers, which last month announced plans to close its Heights branch on May 12th; C&D owner and $2-bill enthusiast Dennis Laviage pointed out to KPRC that the fire was hot enough to melt the steel frames of the townhomes, and that the incident could have been way worse if some of the diesel stored on the C&D property had gotten involved in the action.

Builder La Casa International‘s in-progress pre-fire plans for the 2 lots included 8 units; a rendering of the complex’s driveway viewed from W. 24th shows stone pavers partitioned off by strips of fake grass:

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Smoke over the Skyline