Archive for Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Fire destroys shopping complex

December 19, 2001

A suspected case of arson has left the city of Basehor without its only area of retail sales.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, a shopping mall at 155th Street and State Avenue caught fire, damaging the nine businesses housed there.

Investigators said the fire was set deliberately and caused an estimated $1 million damage to the building and its contents.

"The investigators from the ATF and the Kansas State Fire Marshal's (Office) are saying it was incendiary," said Larry Scott, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

The ATF was called to the scene because of the damage caused by the fire, said Sonny Wilson, assistant special agent of the Kansas City, Kan., ATF office.

"We come in at the request of the fire department and the police department because of the man power and assistance that we bring," Wilson said.

Scott said a K-9 unit was brought to the scene of the fire during the initial stages of the investigation.

The dog reportedly, smelled accelerants at the scene of the fire.

The fallout of businesses from the fire is not yet known but at least three business owners said they would not attempt to reopen.

"It's over. There is no future," said Jim Rumsey, owner of Rumsey's Retail Liquor. "If it is really arson, it really upsets me. This country has just gone through one of the worst tragedies ever and for someone to be so self-centered in these times makes me very upset.

"I think that person should be sought out in the same manner as (Osama) bin Laden."

A second business owner, Mark Bichelmeyer of Bichelmeyer's Grocery, said his business is also finished.

"I am probably through," he said. "It would take quite a while to fix (the building) and you're talking about a lot of work."

Pat's Shampoo Hut and Tanning Salon owner Pat Wilson said she probably wouldn't return to the building.

"I don't think it is affordable for me to back in there," she said. "I am not sure what (the owners) are going to do or how they are going repair it. I heard they are going to make the rent real high and I can't afford that."

All the business owners spent parts of the week picking up what's left of their depleted businesses.

On Monday, Dec. 17, grocery store employees were busy discarding damaged food products.

A health inspector from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment was on hand to monitor the food's disposal.

The grocery store had 15 part-and full-time employees that now find themselves out of work.

Basehor resident Sheri Davis had worked at the grocery store part-time for the past year and a half. For someone to purposely damage the store would be unbelievable, she said.

"I don't know who would want to do it," Davis said. "Look at all the lives these people have damaged. People that had businesses and now they have nothing."

A second grocery store employee, Basehor resident Carolyn Theodoroff, said she was upset by the alleged arson.

"I hope they find who did it," she said. "Whoever did it took people's livelihood and their income. This store was like a family and we are just devastated."

Theodoroff had worked at the store for the past five years.

Two businesses, Pat's Shampoo Hut and Keepsakes, a gift store, were completely destroyed by the fire.

Gayln Gorup, spokesman for the Fairmount Township Fire Department, said the fire started in a storeroom of Keepsakes at approximately 2:33 p.m.

The store was closed at the time of the fire.

Keepsakes owner Pat McClain said she hopes to reopen her store in the future.

"I want to go back in there, but it is going to take a while to get it cleaned up," McClain said.

Another business owner also said he would return to Basehor when the building is restored.

Dr. Gary Forshee of Forshee Chiropractic said he would temporarily relocate to Bonner Springs until his office space is cleaned up.

"This is temporary until my space is restored, but I don't know how long it will be," Forshee said.

The chiropractor's office sustained minimal smoke and water damage thanks to the work of the firefighters at the scene, Forshee said.

"I thought our Fire Department did a fine job in controlling the fire," he said. "It could have been a lot worse."

Gorup said the businesses west of Bichelmeyer's sustained some smoke and water damage.

Basehor city officials said preparations were being made to get the shopping center ready for those businesses to return.

More than 100 firefighters from seven different departments responded to the fire, Gorup said.

Gorup said the firefighters were able to contain the fire to the northeast section of the building by using large fans. The fans were positioned at the entrance of the liquor store in front of the building and in the doorway of the Doc and Bruties Pizza Parlor.

The fans were instrumental in keeping the fire and smoke from spreading past Bichelmeyer's, Gorup said.

"The ATF said it was absolutely unbelievable that we saved the structure because of the way the fire was rolling," he said.

The future of the building itself remains unclear.

According to the Leavenworth County registrar's office, the building is currently under a contract for deed.

Tonganoxie residents Joe and Connie Daniels are selling the building to Dennis and Debbie Breuer, also of Tonganoxie, according to records.

Dennis and Debbie Breuer declined to comment concerning the fire at the advice of their insurance company, the couple said.

Basehor city officials said the couple had planned to renovate the building.

"The property owner had been making plans to remodel the entire building," Basehor City Codes Administrator Mike Hooper said.

The investigation into the fire is still on going. Investigators would not comment on whether there were any suspects at this point.

Scott said a reward up to $5,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the fire.

People with information concerning the alleged arson are asked to call 1-800-KSCRIME.

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