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Charred Spirit: Questions remain about early morning fire at Heights business

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Posted: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:15 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Mason W. Canales

Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS - Several entities worked together Monday, searching through the wreckage for the cause of an early morning fire that destroyed a commercial building at 701 Indian Trail.

Officials with the Harker Heights Fire Department requested aid from the state fire marshal's office, the area arson investigators task force, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Monday morning while firefighters and other city workers attempted to quell hot spots in the remnants of a Spirit Halloween Superstore.

"I have asked that nothing is left to chance," Harker Heights Fire Chief Jack Collier said about the decision to request other agencies to help with the investigation of the fire.

There could be a number of causes to the fire, ranging from electrical problems to arson, he said.

It is possible that something that was smoldering for a long time could cause flames to spread this quickly or that accelerants may have been used, Collier said.

"I am not saying it was arson ... but we have definitely not ruled it out," he said.

The building had quite a bit of fuel for the fire because of the type of merchandise at the store, he said.

Even though the fire was determined to be under control by about 3 a.m., investigators couldn't start to work the scene until about 7:30 a.m.

Before investigators could begin their search, firefighters and other city workers had to remove the roof of the building, which had collapsed onto the fire.

The fire still could be burning underneath the roof because it sheds water, Collier said.

The blaze

At about 1:32 a.m. Monday, Bell County Communications dispatched the fire department to a 911 call at the store, according to a news release.

"I was sitting in the parking lot waiting for newspapers," said Joshua Guillet of Copperas Cove, who said he made the emergency call. "We looked in there and the whole ceiling was on fire. It was just in the top corner and then went all the way across the rafters."

The fire department was on the scene in about three minutes, Collier said. A Harker Heights fire engine, a quint ladder truck and an ambulance responded to the scene. A Killeen Fire Department engine and a ladder truck also arrived for support.

About five minutes after the fire department arrived, the front of the building collapsed, HHFD Lt. Michael Leighman said.

"They barely got the hose hooked up, then the wall fell," Guillet said. "It was just a loud crinkle, then it just fell, and then you could hear all the aerosol cans (from hair dye) going off..."

Firefighters attacked from the outside of the structure, and they brought it under control by about 3 a.m., Collier said.

Only one set of steel support beams was standing after the fire was under control. Smaller piles of burning rubble continued to smoke during the morning.

The building

Jim Wright Company is the property manager handling the site, which was currently occupied by Spirit Halloween Superstore, for an elderly Dallas couple.

The holiday store leased all 7,500 square feet of the building after Hollywood Video closed all of its central Texas locations. It opened for business in September for the Halloween season.

The contract for Spirit Halloween was supposed to expire at the end of the month, JWC owner Jim Wright said. A tenant had already agreed to lease 4,000 square feet of the building and JWC was working out a contract with a second tenant.

The building was insured and sits on one of the busiest intersections in the city.

Early estimates of the damage totaled more than $1 million, Collier said.

The building was estimated at about $800,000 and property belonging to Spirit Halloween was estimated at $280,000, he said.

Anyone with information about the fire should call the Police Department at (254) 953-5400 or the Fire Department at (254) 699-2688.

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

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