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Rags, paper used to set fire, officials say


January 26, 2001|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Staff Writer

El Centro fire investigators have determined a blaze that destroyed the Fox Theatre on Wednesday was started after a match was set to a pile of rags and paper.

No flammable liquids or accelerants could be detected at the fire's point of origin, El Centro Fire Marshal Linual White said this morning.

"A moderate quantity of combustible material was used as the ignition fuel," he said. "Based on evidence found there, we feel a match was the ignition source."

Set in the southwest corner of the Fox in an above-ground storage area, the fire quickly spread through the vacant movie house and into two adjacent buildings, all on Seventh Street between State and Main.


Reported shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday, fire crews from throughout the Imperial Valley battled the blaze into early Thursday morning.

Since then, El Centro firefighters have kept watch over the fire scene. Anticipating hot spots and possible fire flare-ups beneath tons of scorched rubble, El Centro fire engines have camped near Seventh and State streets ready to extinguish any potential flame.

Fire crews continued their efforts this morning.

Said White: "Because of the nature of that fire there's still hot spots in the rubble.

"They'll be there through today until we've determined the area is safe and secure," he said.

Meanwhile, White said fire investigators are continuing efforts to complete a report of their arson investigation.

At that point, White said, fire officials will meet with the company that insured the Fox and its adjacent buildings as well as with El Centro Police Department investigators.

White said law enforcement officials do not have any suspects in mind regarding who may have set the blaze.

El Centro City Councilman Larry Grogan said this morning El Centro fire may bring in an outside agency to assist in the further investigation of the Fox fire.

"They may be bringing in some outside experts to review the actual condition of how the fire started, how it spread and all the characteristics of the fire," he said.

Grogan added he and El Centro Mayor Cheryl Walker will meet with City Manager Abdel Salem and Fire Chief Charles Beard next week to discuss the recent rash of fires, which also has seen The Salvation Army Thrift Store on the 600 block of Main laid to ruin in early December.

"Obviously we have concerns. Any time you have arson activity in the downtown area or any other area, you need to find out what we can possibly do to become more aware," he said.

"Is there any activity the merchants could do themselves to cut down the possibility of such activity?" Grogan asked. "What can we do to protect ourselves?"

El Centro Chamber of Commerce and Visitors' Bureau Executive Director Cathy Kennerson said this morning the proximity in distance and time of The Salvation Army and Fox fires should be of grave concern to the city.

"It certainly is disturbing that we would have two fires so close to each other in the downtown in the same block. I certainly hope it isn't a plan by somebody to take down the downtown."

Kennerson added, "There should be some kind of investigation to rule out any type of serial arsonist at work. It's pretty coincidental."

Fire officials could not be reached late this morning to comment on such a possibility.

The Salvation Army and Fox fires come as efforts continue by the city of El Centro to revitalize the downtown shopping district.

Construction work continued this morning on a pedestrian plaza at Seventh and Main, mere yards from the scene of the Fox Theatre fire that also destroyed Tigre Negro Kung-Fu studio and the county Republican Party headquarters. The Republican Party has set up temporary offices at Jim Dale Distributing, 670 Broadway in El Centro.

Staff Writer Richard Montenegro can be reached at 337-3453.

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