Massive fire at Kent strip mall could be arson

Kent, Wash. — Firefighters battled a three-alarm fire at a Kent strip mall overnight that investigators say could be arson.

At 2:45 a.m. Wednesday, crews were first called to a car fire near Central Avenue and Meeker Street. They arrived to find three vehicles burning next to a pawn shop in a strip mall, which had caught fire on an exterior wall and its eves.

PHOTOS: Pawn shop destroyed in strip mall fire

The fire grew rapidly and a second alarm was called out to summon more resources. About 40 firefighters were called to the burning Empire Pawn Shop.

As the fire continued to grow, three elevated "master streams," which spray large volumes of water, 
were positioned toward the building's roof so the fire could be quickly knocked down when the flames broke through, according to Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority.

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The tactic was successful and the fire was kept in check, saving an adjacent auto body shop and Neiman Glass to the north.

As of 5 a.m., most of the fire had been knocked down.

People at a number of shops along Central Avenue said they are thankful the fire was contained to the pawn shop, but feel bad for their neighbor who just renovated the business in the last year.

Augustine Solano owns the adjacent body shop. He said a firewall between his shop and the pawn store kept flames from getting to the nearly 20 cars belonging to his customers that are parked inside.

Doug Cain, who owns Neimen Glass two doors down from the pawn shop, said he is worried that transients could be responsible.

"About a year and a half ago, I had them build a fire right here in my lot," said Cain.

The fire is being investigated as a possible arson, but the cause is not yet known and remains under investigation.  Investigators will comb through the damage looking for clues in and around the pawn shop.

The businesses left standing are thankful the firefighters got there in time.

"It could have gone all the way through here, so I am just glad they got to it so quickly," said Cain.

The building that housed the pawn shop dates back to 1929. Neighbors say the owner recently renovated the store.

Fire officials say the age of the structure -- along with the large space inside the pawn shop with a lot of fuel to burn - were the reasons the fire got so large, so quickly.