SANTA MARIA, Calif. - (UPDATE 10:00 p.m.)
Santa Maria fire officials are investigating two retail fires in one week. Arson is suspected in the suspicious blazes at Town Center West Shopping Center and a Santa Maria grocery store. Now authorities believe the two could be connected.
“The fire is very suspicious. We believe it was intentionally set and this brings us to the fact that this is the second one in the city that we’ve had in the last week,” said Santa Maria Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Farmer.
Fire officials now believe flames in a bin at Foods Co. on July 24th could be connected to the Fallas blaze.
“These fires are being lit during normal business hours while employees and customers are in the stores. The description of the suspect is very similar.” said Farmer.
Farmer says there’s also similarities between the merchandise ignited and both fires started in common locations with low visibility.
“Arsonists are few and far between. Our fire marshal and our fire investigators have seen the commonalities between these two fires and believes that we may have an arsonist on our hands,” said Farmer.
Police say the suspect will likely face felony arson and vandalism charges.
Arson is suspected in a fire at the Fallas department store in Santa Maria Tuesday night that forced employees to flee and activated the store's sprinkler system causing major damage to inventory.
The fire started just after 10:00 p.m. with Santa Maria firefighters arriving within minutes to find smoke billowing out of the roof of the building in the Town Center West shopping center.
Employees were working in the store at the time of the fire and managed to evacuate the building without injury.
Investigators believe the fire started on the second floor of the two-story building and by the time firefighters made it there, the building's fire sprinkler system had activated.
"Fire sprinklers did keep the fire in check which allowed our crews to fully extinguish it", said Santa Maria Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Mike Farmer, "we went into salvage and overhaul operations
after that to remove the smoke and lessen the water damage as much as we could."
Water from the fire sprinklers damaged clothing, household goods and other items in the store which is expected to remain closed on Wednesday for the cleanup.
Investigators from the Santa Maria Fire Dept. and the Santa Maria Police Dept. are investigating the suspected arson fire.
Firefighters responded to reports of a fire at the Fallas Discount Store Tuesday night in Santa Maria, according to the fire department.
The fire broke out around 10:16 p.m. on the second floor of the store located on Town Center West.
The sprinklers came on helping to put out the fire.
The store will be closed on Wednesday because of water damage to the second and first floors.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.