Clouds of black smoke billowed out of the vacant Reddy Ice Plant in downtown Fredericksburg Saturday morning as firefighters from the city and Stafford and Spotsylvania counties battled the blaze.

The fire began in the back of the building at 1901 Princess Anne St., which had once been the plant's office and storage area for the ice. It spread to the roof, which partially collapsed, said Battalion Chief Brandon Bass of the Fredericksburg Fire Department.

He said the fire department got the call at 7:46 a.m., and asked Fredericksburg's Public Works Department to send over a backhoe and front-end loader to bring down a couple of walls so firefighters could get inside to put out the blaze. He said the doors to the building were open when they arrived, but they didn't see anyone inside.

Developer Ed Whelan, who owns the building, said vagrants have been breaking into the building.

"There are multiple times that we've had issues," he said.

Bass said no one was injured, and the cause of the fire had not yet been determined. He said the fire marshal is investigating.

Police blocked traffic to most of the 1900 block of Princess Anne Street while the fire was being contained, but it was reopened shortly before noon. Wisps of smoke were still emerging from the rubble of bricks in the back of the old plant, and Bass said that firefighters would check back every few hours until the smoldering fire was completely out.

Whelan has long envisioned turning the old ice plant and several other nearby buildings into a mixed-use development. As he surveyed the devastation, he said he had been considering either renovating the building or tearing it down.

"The roof was already in rough shape," he said. "I don't think it's salvageable at this point. I would say it's totaled, as they would say in the auto insurance business."

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Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com

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