Fire and explosion in Pleasant Hill

January 22, 2009 11:36:46 AM PST
Pleasant Hill police are investigating a mysterious explosion and fire Thursday morning at a strip mall. This is the fourth time in 18 months that the Cigarettes Outlet on Contra Costa Boulevard has come under attack.

There were no injuries, just a lot of questions about this. Windows were blown out and glass was sent flying 50 feet - at about 5:00 Thursday morning there was an explosion, followed by a fire, and as with the other three attacks against this same store whoever did it - disappeared into the darkness.

"Somebody don't like me - that's it," said Joginder Banga, store owner.

That would appear to be the understatement of the year from Cigarettes Outlet store owner Joginder Banga.

About 5:00 Thursday morning - someone threw something into this store, investigators say possibly through the back window, probably not a bomb, but rather some kind of fire starter. They wanted to burn the place down, not blow it up.

"There could be a number of items; one that we are looking is that it just built up enough pressure inside the building by the time the fire started - that the windows were the weakest point," said Richard Carpenter, Contra Co. Fire Marshall.

Which explains why the windows are in the parking lot - some fairly intact - others in small pieces. As for who is behind this attack or the three others in the past 18 months, Mr. Banga has no idea, and neither do police. But, Mr. Banga says he's not sticking around to find out - he's out of here.

"I have no job," said Banga.

"Your going to sell this place?" asked a reporter.

"Well I think so," said Banga.

"Who's going buy a place that's been burned down four times in a year," asked a reporter.

"I'm going to put it back together again," said Banga.

No other business in this strip mall has been victimized by any of the attacks, just Cigarettes Outlet. Paul Grobbel is a frequent customer of the laundromat two doors down.

"It's a small town USA, you don't expect anything like this that's for sure," said Paul Grobbel, Walnut Creek resident.

But with an attack against the same store every five months or so for the past 18 months, this is becoming a fairly regular occurrence.

It's a sad story -- Mr. Banga saved up his money for driving a county bus for 26 years so that he could have this business and now he's going to walk away from it.