Union Street fire, 11/16/14

The blaze looked like a scene from Hell in the pre-dawn light, as the first aerial ladder trained water on the already engulfed building. Photo by Josh Taylor.

Property owners of burned buildings, displaced Ohio University students, and firefighters and city officials were taking stock Sunday after a major blaze heavily damaged the north side of West Union Street's uptown block early that morning.

City officials reported several people being treated Sunday for injuries in the fire, including three firefighter, one police officer and four student residents.

Photos taken of the fire from different uptown vantage points in the pre-dawn darkness showed an otherworldly red and yellow glow arising from the back of several West Union buildings.

The blaze was intensely fought by fire crews after they got the initial fire report at 4:11 a.m., and they were continuing to put out hot spots well into Sunday afternoon.

The fire damaged buildings containing the Union Bar and Grill, Jack Neal Florists, Kismet, Campus Sundry, the Smoke Zone Smoke Shop, Jackie O's Public House. They're located at 14 and 24 W. Union St. Some of the buildings contained upper-floor apartments, most of them occupied by Ohio University students.

Athens Public Information Officer Ron Lucas said Sunday the cause of the fire was still under investigation, and the building where the fire started hadn't been identified.

The state Fire Marshal's office was on scene Sunday afternoon but had not begun its official investigation as firefighters were still working to douse hot spots from the fire.

The block of buildings - some of which appear to be gutted - is one of Athens' oldest, containing spaces that have been occupied by student-oriented bars and businesses since early in the 20th century.

Two of Athens' most popular live-music venues, The Union Bar and Grill and Jackie O's Public House, are out of business at least temporarily and maybe longer for the Union.

Jackie O's owner Art Oestrike said Sunday that the kitchen, which is housed in a building shared with The Union, will be closed for the foreseeable future, at least until the end of the year.

He said that The Union building no longer has a roof, and the Jackie O's kitchen, which served Jackie O's Public House, sustained serious water and smoke damage.

The Union's Facebook page on Sunday provided an update to the damage done to that building.

"Though firefighters made heroic efforts to contain the blaze, it quickly spread down the street to us. I currently don't know the full extent of the damage but it is very extensive," said owner Eric Gunn. "The Union as we knew it is no more. I truly appreciate all the offers of help and warm sentiments. The Union was a second home to so many of us (including myself); it makes my heart ache. As I know more, I will try to keep this page updated. Hopefully the place will have a good phoenix story coming soon."

The booking manager for The Union, Scott Winland, said he watched firefighters combat the blaze from across the street.

"My heart is broken," he said Sunday morning. "I think I'm still in shock."

Oestrike said that when he entered Athens via Stimson Avenue around 6 a.m. he could see flames in the uptown area. He expressed his gratitude to emergency personnel and firefighters who came from other communities in the county to give assistance.

"They did a great... job," Oestrike said, adding that at some point this coming week the other side of Jackie O's from the Public House (also known as Jackie O's Brewery) should be open for business. He expressed sympathy to the other impacted businesses, noting the tough time ahead for employees of those affected.

Lucas said Sunday afternoon that the city was working to open businesses on the opposite side of Union Street. He said the fire department first responded to the structure fire at 4:11 a.m. and police evacuated the block of Union Street between Court and Congress by 5 a.m.

Four OU student residents were injured that the city knows about, Lucas said, with one person transported to O'Bleness Memorial Hospital and the other three refusing transport, and treated and released. With regard to the one police officer and three firefighters transported, Lucas said Sunday the extent of their injuries was unknown.

Ohio University issued a campus-wide alert at 8:55 a.m., saying it was "working with students who have been displaced due to a fire that is still active on Union Street in downtown Athens." As of Sunday afternoon, OU was reporting that approximately 40 students were affected, and officials were working on providing those students with short-term housing and other immediate and short-term needs.

A power outage uptown, Lucas said, was impacting Court Street from Union to Washington, Union Street between Court and Congress streets, and Congress Street from Union to Washington. Streets were closed in these same areas. The block was still without power as of Sunday afternoon.

Lucas said city street crews will work over the next couple days to clean impacted public areas as much as they can.

It was uncertain whether the blaze also damaged the backs of Court Street buildings that are near the rear areas of the West Union buildings that burned.

Several fire trucks were parked, with full fire crews still fighting "hot spots" as of 1 p.m. Fire personnel responded from in and around Athens, including from Richland Area, The Plains, Waterloo Township and Nelsonville.

For those interested in assisting affected students, a donation station has been set up on the fourth floor of Baker University Center. According to OU officials, the affected students are in need of toiletries and warm clothing.

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