News

Downtown F.C. Blaze Displaces Businesses, Cripples Building

A spokesman for the Arlington Fire Marshal’s Department, which deployed over 46 firefighters to the scene of the blaze that has rendered the two-story retail and office building at 105 E. Annandale Rd. an unsafe and now-condemned structure Saturday morning, said that an investigation has established that there is “nothing suspicious” involved in what caused the fire to break out.

Chief Ben Barksdale told the News-Press that while a final determination won’t be announced before the end of the week, “It is leaning toward accidental-undetermined.”

Meanwhile, he said, two firefighters who suffered heat-related exhaustion at the scene of the downtown City of Falls Church blaze are home recovering, having been treated at the scene. There were no other injuries.

Arlington County, including Falls Church volunteers, and Fairfax County firefighters responded to the scene with eight engine trucks, three ladder trucks, a heavy rescue trucks, along with three battallion chiefs, two emergency medical service supervisors and an aide to the commend vehicle. Falls Church Police, Arlington County Police and Falls Church Sheriff’s Department also responded. The first “911” reports of the fire came in at 10:51 a.m.

City Hall records of the property, assessed at $2.7 million, indicate that it was sold on May 13 to  “Falls Church Investments LLC” of Great Falls, Va. for $2 million. While the land value of the .917-acre (39,995 square feet) site is assessed at $2.3 million, the 60-year-old, two story, 19,000 square foot building was assessed at only $368,000.

The City of Falls Church building inspector Doug Fraser placed a handwritten sign in the window of one of the ground floor retail spaces vacated, designating is as “an unsafe structure” and closed.  It was handwritten, according to City Hall, because the computer equipment in his office was temporarily unavailable.
“It was done because there are no lights or power in the building,” explained Barbara Gordon, the City’s chief information officer, noting that until the building is “made safe,” it will remain condemned by the City, and no one will be allowed to enter it. “It will be up to the owner how to address that face,” she said, adding that “there was extensive damage to the roof” and all the offices on the second floor, where a travel agent, a realty and other small business were located.

The Lebanese Butcher, the Nationwide Insurance office of agent Peter Stathis, and the Annandale Cafe were among the businesses on the ground floor now closed. No business was open this week, although the Nationwide office had posted signs in its window in both English and Spanish indicating it had been temporarily relocated to the building next door.
During the fire, which engulfed the entire second floor, belching black smoke out of windows from end to end, electrical power was shut down to the site that also caused the adjacent Tower Square Shopping Center to lose power.

It is believed the fire broke out Saturday morning in the east end of the building above the Annandale Cafe. The site’s longest-standing business, the Lebanese Butcher, had been at its location there for over 30 years and was considering expanding at the site.

Within moments of the first reports of the fire, the City’s Economic Development Office (EDO) chief Rick Goff excused himself from a weekend meeting of the Falls Church City Council at the Henderson Middle School to go to the scene and immediately offer his services on site to the business owners there about relocation opportunities.

Samir Rababe, the son of the Lebanese Butcher’s owners said they are seeking to relocate to another address in the City.

This week, Goff and Becky Witsman in the City’s EDO have been meeting one-on-one with business owners to offer relocation assistance, using the City’s online commercial office space directory.

The City’s Commissioner of the Revenue office reported that one small second-story business came to City Hall Monday to file papers to go out of business.