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Archive for Saturday, March 1, 1997

SUNFLOWER FIRE STILL UNDER INVESTIGATION

March 1, 1997

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The investigation into Wednesday night's downtown fire continues.

Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical, the city's public works department and the city's chief building inspector don't often work in the same building.

This week is different. All three have inspected the burned out shell that once housed Sunflower Surplus, Sunflower Bike Shop and Herbivore's Juice Bar and Deli. They're sifting through the debris, looking for clues as to what might have started the fire Wednesday night.

As of Friday evening, the search continues.

Investigators were still on the scene Friday, trying to determine the cause. They are focusing on the basement of 802 Mass. as a possible point of ignition. Water has been removed from the site, photographs taken and a preliminary survey completed, fire officials said.

Beyond that, fire officials would not comment about the fire's cause.

Meanwhile, other inspectors were on the scene.

"The walls seem to be intact," City Building Inspector Gene Shaughnessy said. "But without having some sort of structural report, we don't know for sure if they can be used or if they need to be reinforced."

Such a report would come from an structural engineer who would inspect the site after fire officials have completed their investigation, Shaughnessy said.

A freight elevator engine was also removed Friday from the back of 802 Mass. The engine was lifted out through the roof with the help of a crane.

"With all the work that's going to be done it was a hazard and not real stable," Fire Marshal Richard Barr said.

Sunflower employees watched the investigation from a distance. Many traveled back and forth from the scene to the store's satellite location at 844 Mass.

"We're going to let this evolve," Sunflower manager Chad Kemper said. "It's a store setting up before our very eyes."

More than a dozen employees showed up for work Friday. They removed wallpaper, checked in UPS shipments and cleaned the new location.

Phone lines with the store's original number will be up and running by Monday, Kemper said. Employees have spent the past two days calling vendors for copies of merchandise orders.

"We've gone from shock and disbelief to shock and disbelief," Kemper said. "I've never worked with a group of people like this."

Kemper credits strong community support for the employees' enthusiasm. Several businesses have brought in food and others have helped Sunflower employees get in touch with merchandise vendors.

"People have been breaking down in tears when they find out we're going to reopen," Sunflower employee Rob Hendon said.

The new location will be open for business Tuesday.

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