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Fire ruled as Arson at Gallery Furniture

HOUSTON – Officials of the Houston Arson Squad, and the federal bureau of ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) made a surprising announcement last Thursday at a news conference. ATF asst. special agent Robert Elder, and Houston Arson chief Alison Stein stated that they had ruled out all possible causes of the massive warehouse fire at Gallery Furniture from accidental causes, and that meant the only remaining explanation was intentional arson. A faulty generator, originally cited as the source, was checked and did not cause the fire, he said.

The fire started last Thursday night, May 21, at about 8:40 pm in the northeast corner of the warehouse, behind the showroom on the North Freeway. Within a short time it had grown to engulf the whole warehouse, and the Houston Fire Department fought the four alarm fire with about 40 pieces of equipment and about 150 firefighters.

They were able to contain the blaze after about 2 1/2 hours, but the warehouse and its contents were completely destroyed, and the main showroom building experienced smoke and water damage. Owner Jim McIngvale reported that the sprinklers in the showroom areas went off, damaging much inventory.

ATF agent Elder estimated that the total loss will grow to between $15 and $20 million dollars. The BATF became involved soon after the fire was contained, and they sent one of their four National Response Teams to the site. These 20 man teams, equiped with special vehicles and equipment for investigations, are only activated when fires are large and of suspicious origin, according to ATF representative Franceska Perot, who spoke to the Northeast News.

After the fire, owner Jim McIngvale and his staff reopened the next morning at their second location in the Galleria area, at 2411 Post Oak Blvd. Since then, they have been trying to sell and deliver their furniture and electronics in a normal manner, until the main store can reopen, which may be in several weeks.

After the announcement of the arson investigation, McIngvale issued a statement saying that he was “shocked and stunned” at the ruling, and hoped the responsible parties would soon be apprehended. ATF agent Elder said the investigation so far had pursued at least 100 leads, and that all employees, neighbors and witnesses were being interviewed.

He noted that the fire started in an area not normally accessible by the public. As to motive, he said “there’s all kinds of motive – spite, revenge, or just a firebug. They run the gamut of why people set fires. But we don’t have an accident, we have an arson.”

The NRT, National Response Team, was started in 1978 according to the ATF, and has investigated 673 fires, including 15 in 2009.

Anyone with information regarding the fire is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS, or the ATF number, 1-888-ATF-FIRE.