Fire investigation continues in Basehor
Some question state officials’ ruling of arson in Dec. 15 blaze at retail center
State investigators are still looking at arson as the likely cause of fire that destroyed a portion of the Basehor shopping complex.
On Dec. 15, the shopping center at 155th Street and State Avenue in Basehor caught fire, destroying some businesses and leaving others with smoke and water damage.
At least three businesses, Bichelmeyer's Grocery, Rumsey's Retail Liquor and Pat's Shampoo and Beauty Salon, will not reopen, the owners said.
Thursday night, George "Brutie" Mills, co-owner of Doc and Brutie's Pizza reopened his business for carryouts and deliveries. He hopes to open his dining room this week.
"We had to clean the kitchen and the back room so we could open for carryout and delivery," Mills said.
The pizza business, which is on the west side of the shopping complex, received smoke damage in the blaze.
Several other businesses likely will reopen soon, said Dennis Breuer, a Tonganoxie man who along with his wife, Debbie, is purchasing the center on contract.
"We'll get it back going," he said. "It will be even better."
Larry Scott, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said the ATF is still investigating the alleged arson.
"As of (Thursday) it is still an arson," Scott said.
Investigators would not comment on whether there were any suspects at this point.
Scott said he could not discuss details of the investigation because it is ongoing.
Scott said evidence from the building has been sent to a Kansas Bureau of Investigation laboratory for analysis.
The fire started about 2:30 p.m. in a storeroom of the Keepsakes Gift store, in the northeast section of the building. The gift shop was closed at the time.
Although the ATF is claiming arson, Mark Bichelmeyer, owner of Bichelmeyers Grocery, said his insurance investigator couldn't find any signs of the alleged criminal act.
"He said he didn't see anything that said it was arson," Bichelmeyer said.
Bichelmeyer said he doubted the fire was set purposely.
"It just doesn't make sense," Bichelmeyer said. "It just doesn't add up. Some of the businesses were still open and there were cars in the parking lot.
"Hopefully the ATF can find out one way or the other."
Basehor city officials said they also had a difficult time believing the fire was set deliberately.
"My feeling is that it is not arson," Basehor Mayor Bill Hooker said. "I think the fire marshal ruled that too quickly."
Shortly after the fire, Hooker said he hoped the fire was not the work of an arsonist.
"If it is arson I am embarrassed we would have that kind of thing," he said. "I would hope it doesn't turn out to be that."
Hooker said city officials would work in conjunction with the Basehor Chamber of Commerce to recruit new businesses to the center, if necessary.
"We would assist in any way requested," Hooker said.
City officials said it is unknown when the building had its last fire inspection but it was most likely in 1972 when the building was first built.
Scott said a reward up to $5,000 has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the fire.
People with information are encouraged to call the state hotline at 1-800-KS-CRIME or the Basehor Police Department at (913) 724-1371.