Piedmont Lumber owner denies rumors of closure

March 15, 2010 5:28:14 PM PDT
A massive fire at an East Bay lumber yard is being investigated as a possible case of arson.

Piedmont Lumber went up in flames Saturday on North Main Street in Walnut Creek. It was an enormous fire that roared for hours and now, there are some suspicions.

The ATF spent Monday interviewing Piedmont Lumber employees one-by-one and going through the still-smoldering debris. They say they have identified a location where the fire started, but they are not yet sure of the cause and cannot say if it was case of arson.

Investigators sifted through the rubble at Walnut Creek's Piedmont Lumber yard Monday, two days after a four-alarm fire caused $5 million in damage.

"Sometimes things have burned that we don't know what it is, so we pull it out to look at it further in a controlled environment, whether it's still part of the scene, or we send it to a lab," Contra Costa County Capt. Randy Champion said Monday.

Because of the scale of the fire, Contra Costa arson investigators are being assisted by agents from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Neighbor Jay Prouty told ABC7 that he and his wife smelled a chemical odor just before the fire started and then heard a series of explosions.

"Paint was exploding and aerosol cans and all that," he said. "It was just popping like a gunfight."

Saturday's fire came seven months after another one caused $500,000 in damage at the company's Pittsburg location. Investigators ruled that one an arson, but no arrests were made.

"We're certainly considering that in our overall investigation," investigator Vic Massenkoff said Monday. "But, right now we don't have any indication that there's a connection."

The Pittsburg location was closed to the public one year ago. The building now houses the company headquarters after offices in Pleasant Hill were shut down. In Walnut Creek, the once-bustling lumber yard discontinued Saturday hours two weeks ago and a number of employees have been laidd off.

"With the economy and everything the way it is, it's been a struggle but we were surviving," said Piedmont Lumber employee Michael Edwards, "We were doing what we had to do to make things right."

"I know that there's a lot of talk out there about the status of their business being open or closed, as far as their financial condition... That's all being taken into consideration," Champion said.

One of the owners of Piedmont Lumber told ABC7 Monday that contrary to some of the rumors circulating in the community, they had no plans to close the Walnut Creek location any time soon. She said the company was downsizing, but despite the downturn in construction business, the Walnut Creek location was actually their best-performing location.

The Contra Costa County Fire Department is asking anyone with information to call them on their arson tip line at 1-866-50-ARSON and not at dispatch or 911.


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