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ATF joins Heights fire investigation

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Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:17 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Mason W. Canales

Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS - Fire investigators Tuesday continued to scour the scene of a Monday morning blaze that destroyed a Spirit Halloween Superstore at Indian Trail and Central Texas Expressway.

Fire investigators from multiple agencies continued to search for "any evidence" that would help determine the cause of the fire, Harker Heights Fire Department Deputy Chief Glenn Gallenstein said.

"They are actually removing debris layer by layer and evaluating it," he said.

In each area, they are looking at the electrical equipment and anything else that could have caused a problem, Gallenstein said.

Before halting the investigations about 6:30 p.m. Monday, some of the building's electrical equipment was isolated, and is being evaluated by the investigators, HHFD Fire Prevention Officer Stacey Alley said.

On Tuesday, investigators were joined by an Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) K-9 Unit - officer Joey Lankford and accelerant detection canine Rio.

Rio and Lankford walked the area to search for remnants of any type of ignitable liquid.

"This is just another tool in our toolbox," Lankford said about Rio.

Once Rio detects something at the scene, the investigator will search the area and collect samples, Lankford said.

Even with a heavy excavator moving large portions of debris for investigators to sift through the rubble and the fire happening a day prior, Rio would be able to detect accelerants, Lankford said.

Other agencies that helped with Tuesday's investigation included Killeen Fire Marshal's Office, the State Fire Marshal's Office and other ATF officers.

Just because the city has called in additional help doesn't mean it is an arson scene, Gallenstein said. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined. The preliminary investigation may come to a close today, but with samples going to state labs, it will take a while for a true ruling to come back.

"We are just trying to cover all the bases," he said.

John Domeracki, Spirit Halloween Superstores' consignment operator for West and Central Texas, was in Midland at the time of the fire, he said.

Once he heard about the blaze at the store, he started the six-hour drive to Harker Heights.

"It was kind of indescribable," Domeracki said of what was left of the building at 9:30 a.m. Monday. "All we could think of is that we were glad no one was hurt... and then we're glad that it was an isolated building, so other businesses weren't affected."

Spirit Halloween Superstores is operating three other locations in the area - 2500 E. Central Texas Expressway and 100 S. W.S. Young Drive in Killeen, and 2112 SW. HK Dodgen Loop in Temple.

Since it is operating those locations, the employees from the destroyed store were allowed to transfer to those locations to work for the rest of the Halloween season, Domeracki said.

The Harker Heights location was on par to meet its sales goals, Domeracki said. He now hopes that the Killeen stores will pick up the missed business.

Contact Mason W. Canales at mcanales@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7554. Follow him on Twitter at KDHheights.

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