Fire causes $5 million in damage to lumber yard

March 15, 2010 9:33:13 AM PDT
Federal investigators in the East Bay are looking into what caused a massive fire Saturday that destroyed a lumber yard in Walnut Creek.

Investigators were at the scene all day Sunday. The area remains a crime scene while they search for clues. Officials say they do not know exactly what started the fire started, but what they do know is that this was the second fire in less than one year for the owners of Piedmont Lumber.

One day after the lumber yard burned to the ground, Contra Costa County's arson team and federal investigators searched for clues. Even with the help of search dogs, investigators say they have yet to find anything suspicious in the pile of ash.

"There's not anything that's suspicious to us yet. We're still gathering information," Capt. Randy Champion with the Contra Costa County Fire Department said Sunday. "What's suspicious to us and what's suspicious to the general public are two different things."

The lumber yard was closed when the fire started at 1:45 in the afternoon. With the exception of the past few weekends, customers say it is usually open Saturdays. The 75-year-old business has been struggling. In addition to reduced hours, it recently laid off a number of employees.

Piedmont Lumber's Pittsburg yard caught fire last year. Investigators say that one was arson, but they do not believe there is a connection. At the Walnut Creek yard, employees like Mike Edwards are struggling to find answers.

"I have no idea. I really don't," he told ABC7.

He went to the scene of the fire Sunday to offer his support. Investigators also hoped he could offer clues. But now, after 16 years, Edwards is out of a job.

"My whole livelihood... It's just... What am I going to do now," he said.

Dennis Jardine at the Volvo dealership across the street called 911 when he saw the smoke.

"I knew they were closed this weekend. So, you see it and all of a sudden the smokes going up and there's a lot of fuel in a lumber yard," he said. "And there's hardware store too, so there's paint and stuff like that."

At the nearby North Main Pet Lodge, the flames came too close for comfort. Two dozen animals were evacuated. On Sunday, the cleanup continued.

"Luckily we're closed for most of the day and were able to get down here and cleanup before we open tonight," said owner Chris Prouty.

For now, the 30 to 35 employees that worked at Piedmont Lumber are out of a job. Investigators said Sunday that the total loss is more than $5 million.


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