YAKIMA, Wash. -- Authorities say a fire that caused an estimated $1 million damage at the Bi-Mart store on North 40th Avenue early Tuesday morning was deliberately set and may have stemmed from a burglary.
Evidence suggests it was arson, said Capt. Jeff Pfaff, spokesman for the Yakima Fire Department, which is working with police to determine the exact cause of the fire and where it started.
Firefighters were called to the store, 1207 N. 40th Ave., at 2:15 a.m. on a report that water was flowing in the building’s sprinkler system. Arriving crews found smoke coming from the back of the building and cardboard boxes burning in a second-story storage area, Pfaff said.
The building’s back doors were open, suggesting someone entered after the store closed for the night, said police spokesman Mike Bastinelli.
A search of the area with a police dog was not successful. It is unknown if anything was taken from the store, Bastinelli said.
Twenty-four firefighters worked to put out the fire, which Pfaff said was confined to the upper storage room due to the sprinkler system. However, smoke went through the building and water pooled in the storage area damaging merchandise, Pfaff said.
Fire officials estimate damage at $1,005,000. Officials said it is unknown how much of the store’s stock, including food, can be salvaged.
The store will close for an indefinite time while it is cleaned up and the merchandise is assessed, said Don Leber, Bi-Mart’s vice president of advertising and marketing.
Leber said the store, which opened in 1982, employs about 55 people. Some of them will be transferred temporarily to the Bi-Mart on South Fifth Avenue to help with the additional shoppers expected there, while the rest will be assisting with the cleanup at the North 40th Avenue store.
Bi-Mart is also transferring prescriptions for customers of the North 40th Avenue store to its other Yakima location, Leber said. He said the company hopes to reopen the pharmacy in the next couple of days, but people will have to use the outside window.
Bastinelli said Bi-Mart was one of four reported burglaries within a 3-mile radius that police were investigating Tuesday. However, he said Bi-Mart does not appear to be related to the other cases.
Detectives are investigating break-ins at the Conoco gas station at 4708 Tieton Drive; Tom-Tom Espresso, 412 S. 40th Ave.; and the Sunshine Mart, 6712 Tieton Drive, Bastinelli said.
This story was updated to correct the date the store opened.