Local News

Investigators Continue To Search For Clues In Downtown Fires

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RALEIGH — Two early morning fires in downtown Raleigh Wednesday still have investigators scratching their heads. They are searching for clues while businesses try to pick up the pieces that the blaze left behind.

The fires, which were reported just before dawn Wednesday, included a two-alarm blaze at 109 South Wilmington Street.

The fire was reported about 5:20 a.m. The first floor of the building is home to a restaurant, N.Y. Deli and Pizza.

The fire, which spread to a vacant second floor, took about three hours to extinguish. At noon, firefighters were still dousing hot spots on the roof.

Raleigh's assistant fire chief says fire walls prevented the blaze from spreading. However, officials say wood floors and walls contributed to how fast the fire moved through the building.

Restaurant owner Hazem Annab wonders how he will start over after 14 years downtown.

"To tell you the truth, it will take a while to figure out the structural damage, what caused it, and we'll see what the fire marshal will allow us to do," he says.

The deli owner has the sympathy of his next door neighbors who were evacuated from their homes.

A newly-refurbished building next door to the burning building, which houses 11 apartments, also suffered some smoke damage. A resident there called in the fire after smelling smoke.

Many Wilmington Street business owners watched with great concern as crews worked to contain the fire. But for most people, the early morning fire was just an inconvenience, as blocked streets made getting to work difficult.

Members of the First Baptist Church had plans for a building on 109 South Wilmington Street. Those plans have now suffered a major setback.

"It was going to be offices, an extension of the church, fellowship hall and any other thing we could set our minds to," says church member Marlene Sanders Jones. "We're going forward. After all, it's not our church, it's the Lord's church. Whatever plans he has, we'll abide."

Fire investigators believe the fire started in the back of the restaurant. They say the fire is suspicious in nature, and they are not ruling out arson. Evidence was collected and sent to the SBI lab for further investigation.

It is worth noting the building is roughly 80 years old, and has a lot of old wiring.

Firefighters first responded to a house fire about 5 a.m. at 100 East Lenoir Street. Officials say the fire was definitely set.

A firefighter reportedly suffered minor injuries to his foot.