Arson Suspected Again -- Shopping Center Burns In Mountlake Terrace's 2Nd Big Fire In A Week

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, Snohomish County - The second fire in a week to cause a million dollars in damage here hit early yesterday morning, and again investigators suspect arson.

Firefighters responded about 2:30 a.m. to reports of flames at West Plaza Shopping Center, 232nd Street Southwest and 56th Avenue West.

By midmorning, the fire was under control and the center's four businesses were destroyed.

One firefighter injured his foot when part of the roof collapsed on him. He was treated at Stevens Hospital in Edmonds and released.

Police questioned two men after the fire was reported, but no arrests were made.

At the height of the fire about 3:30 a.m., 60 to 70 firefighters were at the scene, with nine fire engines and two fire trucks from Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Shoreline and Snohomish County Fire District 1.

Just five days earlier, firefighters quenched a blaze across the street from yesterday's fire, at East Plaza Shopping Center. Damage was estimated at $1 million. Investigators determined the fire was set.

``Because of the proximity to the East Plaza fire, we are proceeding under the assumption that this was another arson fire,'' said Mountlake Terrace Police Cmdr. Larry Ankrum, who leads the arson task force.

The task force, already in place from the earlier fire, includes investigators from the Mountlake Terrace police and fire departments and from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Damage from yesterday's fire is worse than the first one, Ankrum said. He declined to say where the fire started.

In another suspicious fire Thursday night that police believe might be related, a car was destroyed, according to Mountlake Terrace Police Chief John Turner. Police are not ruling out a connection to a rash of arson fires to the south, in northeast Seattle. More than 50 arson fires have been reported in that area since 1988.

After the first Mountlake Terrace fire, investigators determined it was not related to the Seattle fires. That conclusion will be re-evaluated in light of yesterday's fire, Turner said.

``This is getting scary,'' said Jann Barry, who has lived in Mountlake Terrace for 33 years and came to see the latest damage. ``It makes you ask, `Well, what's next?' ''

She shopped for 27 years at Double DD Meats, one of the four stores that burned. The stores occupied one long building with separate fronts.

Bystanders gazed at the smoky shell yesterday, some coming because of the fire, some showing up to shop because they didn't know about it.

``What happened here?'' exclaimed one man, who said he had come to eat lunch at one of the burned businesses, Neal's Nightcap Restaurant.

A few people came with rented videotapes to return to R&H Video. John Hartley's store suffered less damage than the others because a fire wall was installed after a smaller fire 5 1/2 years ago.

``Who's going to rest easy at this point?'' Hartley asked. ``I just hope they get the guy.''

Sally Kyte, owner of Plaza Photo and Pharmacy, said she and other residents got out of bed to watch the building burn. People lined the street to watch, and some came into the Food Merchant across the street to buy soda pop and snacks, according to employee Gina Elgin.

Elgin was taking a break outside when the fire began. She said two employees of Neal's ran from the restaurant sometime after 2 a.m., shouting ``Fire!'' Elgin then ran into her store to call for help.

Flames and black smoke began rolling out from under the roof minutes later, she said.