Investigation begins in cause of furniture store blaze
Federal authorities along with Kansas City fire and police bomb and arson investigators spent Wednesday picking through charred remains and rubble in a search to find out what caused a three-story furniture warehouse to go up in flames.
Investigators have no set no timetable on when they will know what sparked Tuesday afternoon’s three-alarm fire that leveled Friday’s Only Furniture Outlet on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City.
No “suspicious activity” occurred before the fire, according to a news release from Kansas City Fire Department.
“There is absolutely nothing to indicate that it was a set fire,” said John Ham, spokesman for the Kansas City office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “We don’t have any evidence that it was a criminal act at this point.”
Mattress carcasses, burnt down to the springs, were piled outside the former furniture outlet. Water poured out of the loading dock as firefighters sprayed water into the still-smoldering remains Wednesday afternoon. On 29th Street, water and ash blended into a viscous sludge.
“We have to look at all of the possibilities and start taking things off the table to determine to the best of our ability what the cause was or what it could have been,” Ham said.
No damage estimates were immediately available.
The fire Tuesday afternoon was quickly upgraded to a three-alarm fire moments after crews arrived.
Investigators did not enter the building Tuesday or Wednesday because of the instability of the brick structure. Instead, they will use aerial trucks to look inside the building in their search for evidence and clues.
“It is still too dangerous, still too big of a collapse risk, and there is still fire burning down below, and the Fire Department is spraying water on that as needed,” Ham said.
Rick Lopez, driver of the firetruck on the scene Wednesday afternoon, said the building would have to be pulled apart in order to completely extinguish the flames.
The building contained three floors of furniture and other highly combustible materials, which helped fuel the fire.
Investigators want to be able to begin to rule out certain causes and then focus on specific areas where the fire may have ignited, Ham said.
On Tuesday, between 90 and 100 firefighters battled the blaze after multiple people dialed 911 to report the fire.
Fire crews took a defensive position and created a collapse zone around the building’s exterior. No one was thought to be inside when the first firetrucks arrived.
Heavy, thick plumes of white, gray and black smoke were visible from as far away as Olathe and Kansas City International Airport. Flames were visible on the third floor of the building and soon breached the roof.
“A big benefit to us in fires like this is that it happened in the middle of the day in a very populated area,” Ham said. “There were a lot of witnesses, there were a lot of people to interview and a lot of people to talk to, and as investigators that helps us tremendously as we try to figure out what might have happened.”
El Patron, a restaurant whose back door sits about 20 feet from the site of the blaze, opened at 11 a.m. Wednesday. The restaurant had closed about 10 minutes after the fire was reported, said Estela Cabral, owner of the restaurant.
Food was left on tables half-eaten as diners rushed to the exit. After turning off the grills and fryers, the staff left as well. Cabral said she sat in her Chrysler Pacifica with air conditioning on until the fire was deemed under control by the Fire Department. She went inside, turned off the lights and locked the door.
Cabral was back at work by 7 a.m. Wednesday, 2 1/2 hours earlier than usual, she said.