Fire crews from Hamilton, Fairfield Township and Ross Township responded.
The building on either side also was destroyed, with another suffering minor damage to its siding. The buildings are about two blocks east of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and two blocks south of High Street.
In scanner traffic, emergency crews described the scene as “a large, large fire,” and said that they were working on evacuating neighboring homes.
Police officers Jason Holmes and Taylor Bryant made sure people were out of the surrounding buildings.
Mercer said it will be difficult to determine the fire’s cause because the building was leveled. Perhaps somebody broke in and was trying to keep warm on a cold, windy night, he guessed.
It remains under investigation.
Meanwhile, Mercer said the combined number of fire and emergency medical runs has been significantly lower during the coronavirus crisis.
“Our actual run volume is lower now than when the corona thing started,” Mercer said.
Instead of averaging 36-38 runs per day, “in the last two weeks, probably half of our days, we’re in the 20s,” he said.
In the past, city officials have said they wished fewer people would use city emergency ambulances to get to the hospital when those trips weren’t necessary.
“I think probably some people who normally would have decided ‘we’re going to go to the emergency department’ have decided, ‘Well, we’re not, we’re just going to call the doctor and see what we need to do,’ which I think is good.”
“Of the calls that we transport, they’re not all emergencies, and they don’t all need an emergency department,” he said. “But the other side of it is, some people just don’t have family doctors, and that is their mode for treatment, is to go to the emergency department.”
“And they don’t have resources — a ride — or access to someone who can take them, so they use the life squad,” he said. “I think some of that has changed.”