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2018-01-17 / Featured / Real Estate

County’s commercial fires see uptick in 2017

BY PETER GALUSZKA CONTRIBUTING WRITER


Owner of a local painting and power-washing business, Scott Smalley lost supplies and tools in a warehouse fire on Hendricks Road on Christmas morning. 
JAMES HASKINS Owner of a local painting and power-washing business, Scott Smalley lost supplies and tools in a warehouse fire on Hendricks Road on Christmas morning. JAMES HASKINS Scott Smalley, owner of Premium Pressure Wash, was making his family breakfast on Christmas morning when he got the call. “The property manager called me at 8:50 a.m. and said that my business had been burned out,” he recalled.

Smalley’s company had been leveled by a fire. Premium Pressure Wash was among the 14 businesses located in a converted warehouse in the 3700 block of Hendricks Road that caught fire around 7 a.m. that morning. Fortunately, Smalley’s wife and 12-year-old son had already opened their presents before he left to inspect the damage.

While his power washing equipment, mostly stored outside the building in the parking lot, was spared, Smalley lost plenty, including painting supplies, tools and chemicals his company uses for concrete staining jobs. Two weeks later, he’s still unsure of the financial impact. Insurance agents, he says, are scheduled to come out for further assessments this week.

“We lost quite a bit,” he said, adding that it could have been worse. He lost supplies, but he’s fortunately in a slow period for his business, which usually picks up in the spring. “We’re not in prime season,” he explains.

Smalley isn’t the only one facing business disruption due to fire. Another commercial fire that started around 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 11 at a Pizza Hut delivery location along Genito and Old Hundred roads destroyed that restaurant, a Chinese eatery, a dry cleaner and a lice removal business. In both fires, the destroyed businesses were structurally connected to one another.

Indeed, 2017 was a busy year for commercial fires locally. Chesterfield saw a 54 percent increase in the number of county businesses damaged or destroyed by fire compared to 2016. Last year, 74 businesses were damaged by fire. In 2016, there were 48 business fires. In 2015, there were 56 commercial blazes and 50 in 2014.

“There obviously have been two significant fires involving businesses,” said Lt. Jason Elmore of the Chesterfield County Fire Department. Elmore said investigators are still seeking answers in the Nov. 11 and Dec. 25 fires, but Elmore said neither is being investigated as arson. Fire officials have noted the unexplained increase in the number of commercial fires, Elmore said, and are looking for reasons behind them. Investigators are still probing the Hendricks Road blaze that disrupted Smalley’s business, a motorcycle detailing shop and a remodeling business, among others. The day after the fire, an acidic stench covered the burnt-out business stalls as a county police officer patrolled the area.

One factor that both fires had in common: no sprinklers. “The November fire involved an older strip mall that was built before sprinklers were required,” Elmore said. The Christmas fire engulfed what was essentially a converted warehouse that also lacked sprinklers.

Elmore said restaurants are especially fire prone and that managers should take extra care to secure them at night. Additionally, business owners should make sure that any fire prevention system they have is in working order.

The two most recent fires started in the early morning hours when the businesses were closed. A contributing factor is that few people were around when they started, which allows small fires to grow quickly into large and damaging ones, Elmore said.

Smalley said fire officials have an idea, but have yet to give an exact cause. In the meantime, he’s left to pick up the pieces and plan accordingly. He’ll keep plugging along, he said: “Work is work.” ¦

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