In an area of the city that has been dotted with structure fires over the last decade, the Granite Reef Plaza in east Mesa was the latest to be destroyed by a blaze on Sunday — an event causing nine of its businesses to close.
A steady stream of business owners arrived at the plaza at 6350 E. Main St. between Power and Recker roads on Monday to survey the damage from the blaze accelerated by heavy winds that ultimately caused the owners to contemplate and reconfigure their futures.
Mesa fire officials are continuing to investigate the cause of the blaze that broke out about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, requiring about 60 firefighters from at least two jurisdictions to battle heavy winds and be on the scene for nearly 10 hours before it was fully extinguished and also triggering the evacuation of a nearby neighborhood, according to Mesa fire Capt. Loran Allen.
Gracie, a one-year-old cat belonging to Karen Shellberg and John Direnzo of Main Street Grooming (also Mesa Academy of Pet Grooming) is believed to have perished in the fire. A Mesa police officer was treated for smoke inhalation after looking for the cat, which usually sits by the front door of the business. Shellberg and Direnzo were out of town celebrating their anniversary when the fire happened.
The plaza, owned by Judy Gaede of Pioneer Properties in Mesa, also was home to an Ace Flooring store, Abel Clock Co. — a family business that started in St. Louis in 1884 — a tattoo supply store and Next Generation Worship Centers, whose churchgoers noticed that the back of the building was on fire after its Sunday service, and alerted authorities to the fire.
Cynthia Yarnell, a tenant of the plaza for 26 years who owned From Hair to Eternity and employed four people, said she applied for Social Security on Monday after seeing that her business was a total loss.
“I’m retiring,’ said Yarnell, who has been cutting hair for 30 years. “I’m too old to start over. I don’t want to go through the trouble of having to open another place at another location. One of my employees came to my door on Sunday and told me about it. We’ve never had anything like this happen before.”
The fire spread into the attic and flames made their way to other businesses as heavy winds accelerated the situation, Allen said.
“The winds definitely were a factor in accelerating the fire,” Allen said. “During heavy winds, a brush fire is not as bad as a structure fire ... on this one, it became a factor. The thing to do during these conditions is to get as many men possible and as much water possible on the fire. It looks like it’s going to have to be a total rebuild.”
Shellberg said her pet grooming business will be able to work out of Chazlin Puppy Cuts at 4323 E. Broadway in Mesa.
Yarnell’s husband, Nick Kolesar, was quick to rattle off the other nearby places, all within about a mile of each other, that were destroyed by fires in recent years — Captain D’s seafood restaurant across the street about five years ago, the Lost Alaskan bar and restaurant about 10 years ago, a small apartment complex behind the Granite Reef Plaza on Avalon Drive about a year ago and the back area of a neighboring plaza west of the Granite Reef center.
“You don’t know if it’s arson or what,” Kolesar said. “Or, if someone just doesn’t like the neighborhood.”
Nubia Saldana, an employee of Gold Rush Coin and Watch, which buys gold and silver was sitting outside the shop inside the back of her SUV, and said although she normally doesn’t work at the east Mesa location, she might be working out of her car as the entire building is uninhabitable.
“This was a surprise,” Saldana said on Monday. “One of my co-workers who was here and saw them fighting the fire, said it was pretty crazy; pretty intense.”
Most of the business owners told the Tribune they have insurance, but figured only the value of what was inside will be covered if they won’t rebuild and re-open.
Gaede could not be reached for comment.
Dee Abel, owner of Abel Clock Co. which specializes in repairs and clock sales and has been in Arizona for 15 years, was boxing up items from his store that sustained heavy smoke and water damage. Abel said there was about four inches of water in his shop.
“I’m waiting to hear from my insurance company,” Abel said. “No one’s told me anything, yet.”
Abel said he’s not sure if he’s going to re-open anywhere or return to working out of his home like he used to.
“Either way, I have to do something,” Abel said.
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