SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - Richard Ferris has left his store The Sub more or less untouched since a fire nearly took down his entire building in 2015. He believes the former novelty gift shop remains an active crime scene.
"It had to be arson from the moment [it started]. I was telling everybody it was arson from the moment and no one would respect anything we had to say about arson - they pretended it was something else," Ferris explains.
Ferris says that someone claiming to be an off duty firefighter is responsible for the blaze. He argues that this person who still remains anonymous helped evacuate their building before the San Luis Obispo Fire Department arrived.
"When the fire department arrived, they never cleared our building. Somehow they seemed to know that no one was inside but they didn't ask my staff, no one looked through the front door - it was 30 minutes into the fire before they opened the front door. So it's a strange thing how the fire department knew no one was in the building when no one checked, no one asked and no one did their due diligence," says Ferris.
His claims of arson are contrary to the fire department's inconclusive investigation. The San Luis Obispo Police Department are now in charge of the investigation because The Sub's owners are alleging that a crime was committed.
"The police department at this point hasn't seen any reports whether it be from the city or independent reports from the insurance companies that would indicate any type of criminal behavior so we have not been involved up until this point," says Captain Christopher Staley from the San Luis Obispo Police Department.
Ferris says it took them up until now to sort out all of the details and even hire private fire investigators of their own. They are now hosting a photo and video contest asking for the public to submit any information they may have that will support their claim that the fire was started by an incendiary device as well as track down the man who allegedly said he was an off-duty firefighter.
"Photos of the front even will help us. It's amazing how much a photo that might not mean much artistically can help you with solving a fire crime," Ferris says.
The owners of The Sub and the San Luis Obispo Police Department will be meeting for the first time on Thursday. The owners say that they hope they will not have to ultimately resort to a lawsuit in order to get their questions answered by city officials.