'Suspicious' fire at old hospital

Multiple emergency personnel from around the area responded to the fire Monday morning.

Officials with the City of Kingsville Fire Department have listed the cause of a fire at the old Kleberg County Hospital building on Monday as “undetermined, but suspicious,” following an investigation conducted Tuesday afternoon.

Kingsville Fire Chief Adrian Garcia said at about 11 a.m. Monday, first responders received a call that the building at the 400 block of W. Caesar Avenue was on fire.

After arriving on scene, the KFD sought mutual aid from surrounding area fire departments for the vacant building fire, and after about five hours the scene was cleared.

Garcia said there were no injuries or casualties to report from the incident.

On Tuesday, Kingsville Fire Marshal Ron Lee said an investigation into the cause of the fire was “undetermined, but suspicious.”

“Unfortunately, this is just one of those cases where it’s an unsecured building and, you know, anybody can get in,” Lee said. “We can’t rule (anything) out because there’s no electricity or anything to the building, so as is, we’re listing it as undetermined, but suspicious.”

Lee said the cause of the fire can change depending on any new information discovered in the future.

“Whenever we have (an incident) listed as undetermined with suspicion, it’s kind of the same as leaving the case open, so if any new developments occur, then we will certainly follow those leads,” Lee said. “Nobody was seen in the area or anything, so at this time there’s nothing to fall back on. If anybody saw anything, by all means, we ask that people contact the fire department or the police department.”

The old hospital is directly across from St. Gertrude’s School, and was being used as a storage facility. Kleberg County Hospital opened Jan. 1, 1915, the same year as the Kleberg County Courthouse, with 12 patients, according to the Jan. 15, 1915 issue of the Kingsville Record. Voters approved a bond to fund construction of the hospital and courthouse, the former carrying a price tag of $35,000. It also had modern equipment, like an X-Ray unit and wards for infectious patients.

It saw expansion to its current form in the decades that followed, in 1927, 1947 and 1950, historical records have shown.

City officials condemned the old hospital in April 2013, citing safety concerns regarding the building’s stability and other issues. The building has also been the site of a number of small fires set by vagrants and there are broken windows that have not been boarded up.

An environmental report conducted in June 2013 found asbestos in the floor tiles and adhesive throughout the entire building, along with a white powder that had been sprayed on the drywall. Asbestos was also found in window caulking, stucco, roofing materials and pipe adhesive, according to the report.

The presence of asbestos in the building has prevented any demolition over the past six years. 

In 2018, the city sought a federal grant that could have provided up to $200,000 to offset the cost of safely removing the hazardous material, but was unsuccessful in obtaining the grant.

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