A four-alarm fire broke out at a San Jose strip mall – the second fire to damage a strip mall in the South Bay in less than a month – destroyed 12 of the 15 businesses there, fire officials said.
San Jose Fire Capt. Michael Van Elgort said the fire was reported just after midnight Wednesday in the 5000 block of Santa Teresa Boulevard at the Cahalan Square Shopping Center. Officials said it likely started in a trash bin behind Dona Maria Mexican restaurant.
On Wednesday, businesses owners were assessing the damage, searching for answers and leaning on each other for support. Lucy Corona, owner of a house-cleaning business she started in her garage 25 years ago, said she feels responsible for the nine people who work for her.
"They depended on me," she said. "So tomorrow, I guess we'll start all over again. If I have to sell from my home, I will."
The strip mall was built in the 1960s and predates current building codes, fire officials said.
"It does have a common attic," said Fire Capt. Christopher Salcido. "So that means that there is no fire stops in between these businesses."
The mall also lacks a fire sprinkler system.
One of the dozen businesses that was destroyed includes a Mediterranean restaurant owned by Sargan Vnyet, who left his job as a doctor to start the business in 2009.
"I'm choking up right now because it's like your baby, you know?" Vnyet said. "You do all the handiwork yourself, you know, and to not see it there anymore ..."
Other businesses include Bibos NY Pizza, a 7-Eleven, a tattoo parlor, a dentist, a barber shop and a Tae Kwon Do studio, among other small businesses.
Arguably the favorite shop at the mall, however, is Sweet Retreat, an ice cream institution for many in that part of San Jose. Many on Facebook lamented the fire affecting the shop.
Sweet Retreat owner Anjan Parikh stopped to choke back tears as his wife patted him on the back. The shop suffered water damage and now has a hole in its roof. "It's pretty sad," he said. "Give us a little time. We will do our best to rebuild in a timely fashion."
That would be great news for Lauren Smith who ate at Dona Maria hours before the fire broke out and didn't eat at Sweet Retreat, only because she and her daughters were too full. She planned to stop by the mall again on Wednesday to see the damage for herself.
On May 25, a five-alarm fire ripped through a Santa Clara strip mall. That mall was also designed in an L-shape. The fire in that case started near an Indian restaurant. The cause of that, Santa Clara Fire Chief Bill Kelly said, is still "undetermined."