George Kelly and Robert Salonga
The Mercury News
Arson investigators are examining a three-alarm fire at a downtown San Jose building based on suspicions that the operator of a recently shuttered adult entertainment shop there set the Sunday evening blaze, authorities said.
A body later found by firefighters in the building’s basement appears to be that of a man who elicited a police response when he refused to leave the building on East Santa Clara Street before the fire broke out before 6 p.m. According to police and fire officials, the man was standing outside, wielding a sledgehammer and threatening to burn down the building.
“He came back and entered the business and set fire to the building in multiple places,” San Jose fire Capt. Mitch Matlow told reporters Sunday.
Matlow also said that firefighters were forced to slow their response to the fire, on East Santa Clara Street between First and Second streets, because of the report about the man being armed with the sledgehammer.
The fire, owing to its intensity and being in a densely populated area, was raised to three alarms within a half hour of the initial reports. Matlow added that officials believe the man found dead inside is likely the same person who was the subject of the earlier police call.
“We suspect that it is,” he said. “But that is under investigation at this point.”
Before the fire was brought under control, four firefighters suffered injuries, though the extent of those injuries was not immediately known. Early Monday, few remnants of the fire could be seen from the outside besides some scorch and charring marks on the section of the building where the fire is believed to have started, and an adjacent mini-mart.
A day before the fire, what appeared to be a closure notice was posted on the front door of the adult store entrance, along with a cryptic message. Its author referenced that a need to do “court paperwork” and that he was living there, and that having his access to the building cut off meant he could not retrieve his documents.
The owner of the neighboring liquor store told KCBS that he had called police on the adult store operator several times in the recent past.
Luke McDonald told ABC7, this news organization’s media partner, that the adult shop owner was going through recent struggles.
“He was an immigrant and trying to keep his business running. He went through a divorce. I think he was having difficulties with a couple things. People trying to shut down his business,” McDonald said.
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