The Home Depot store on Blossom Hill Road in San Jose, CA, burned down to the ground two weeks ago. One of the largest Silicon Valley fires in recent memory. I told friends at the time that someone probably tossed a lit cigarette in the lumber department. Authorities announced an arrest and revealed the bizarre story behind the fire this week. It wasn’t a lit cigarette.
The Home Depot store became a five-alarm fire that took over 100 firefighters to contain. A fire so large and intense that the heat signature and the smoke plume was visible from space. Customers fleeing the store said that the fire alarm and sprinklers never came on. The 97,000-square-foot big box store and $17 million in inventory went up in smoke.
The biggest fire before that was the Santana Row development fire in 2002. An 11-alarm fire that took over 200 firefighters to contain. I lived in the Moorpark neighborhood near the fire and watched the embers land on nearby wood roofs. Over 30 apartments got damaged or destroyed downwind from the main fire.
The biggest fire before that was the Lexington Reservoir fire near Los Gatos in 1985. That wildfire took over 2,000 firefighters to contain. I lived ten miles away from that fire in south San Jose. The smoke was so thick that the sun turned into a blood-red orb and daylight became a deep dark orange.
The district attorney’s office announced the suspect’s identity and the criminal charges. I won’t show the suspect or mention his name to avoid inspiring copycats to burn down stores. Ten felony counts for arson and grand theft, and three misdemeanors for petty theft. If convicted, the suspect faces 14 years to life in prison.
From the various accounts I’ve read, the three events I’m going to describe took place on the same day. It’s possible that all three events took place on different days over the last six months. The only event that I know for certain that took place two weeks ago was the fire.
Take the rest of the story with a grain of salt.
The suspect’s day—reportedly—started off at Bass Pro Shops off of Almaden Bouvard. He ran into the store, stole some stuff, and ran out.
The suspect went down the street and around the corner to Home Depot on Blossom Hill Road. He loaded up a shopping cart with tools and started a fire in the lumber department. He tried to run out of the store with the shopping cart. An employee intercepted the cart and he fled in a car driven by someone else.
The suspect might have been more successful if the fire alarm and sprinklers had gone off. Or he waited until the call to evacuate the store came over the PA and customers ran for the doors. Even if he got the cart outside, would he have the time to unload the tools into the car? Probably not.
The suspect’s day—reportedly—ended across the street at Macy’s in Oakridge Mall. He ran into the store, stole some stuff, and ran out.
With the suspect in jail, this is where the story would end for most people. Not for me. My father worked in construction and told me stories about commercial real estate when I was young. I’m more interested in how the insurance companies will respond to the Home Depot fire.
The corporate office will file claims that it wasn’t their fault and expect a payout on the claims. The insurance adjusters will point to the fire alarm and sprinklers not working and deny the claims. Never mind that the fire department inspected the store and found no issues six months ago.
Will there be an epic court battle with the insurance companies?
Will shareholders have to eat the replacement cost for a new store and inventory?
Will anyone remember the suspect who started the fire?