ATLANTIC CITY — A fire Wednesday along the side of the Ritz Condominiums prompted an evacuation of the nearly century-old building.
The fire broke out about 10 a.m. on the Belmont Avenue side of the 18-story building, according to two contractors working at the site.
Residents reported seeing and smelling smoke and knowing the fire alarm — which they said goes off sometimes when there isn’t a fire — was signaling a real fire.
“You could smell the smoke and the rubber smell,” said 47-year-old Tom Riley, who lives on the 12th floor. “You could see the fire start on the fourth floor and travel up the rubber. I had the window open, a bucket of 5 gallons of water, ready to go.”
The fire was started by contractors who were doing repairs and welding on floors four through 18, Atlantic City Fire Chief Scott Evans said.
“We were welding, and a piece of hot (metal) fell onto the rubber covering,” said Robert Steiger, owner of ARK Builders LLC. The company has been replacing steel in the corner walls of the building for the past three years, Steiger said.
When firefighters arrived, there was fire along the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of the building extending to the 15th floor, Evans said.
In addition to the fire damage, the center stairwell and the second and third floors sustained some water damage as a result of the firefighters putting out the blaze, Evans said.
While the damage to the building was minor, repairs may be costly because the building, which was once home to former Mayor Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, dates to 1921, Evans said.
Atlantic City police were called in to help evacuate the building, Sgt. Kevin Fair said. Of the 325 units, 160 were occupied, Evans said.
Lee Eisner, 87, of Brooklyn, New York, needed help evacuating because she uses a scooter to get around.
“I waited and waited and the firemen came and evacuated us,” Eisner said. “I had difficulty walking down the steps.”
Eisner lives on the fifth floor of the building with 80-year-old Rita Warnick. The pair have been coming to their city condo since 1989.
“It was not frightening at all,” Warnick said.
Fifty-five firefighters from eight companies responded to the fire, Evans said.
Staff Writer Vincent Jackson contributed to this report.