Fire, smoke at Penney's forces evacuation of mall

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Fire erupted in a storeroom at J.C. Penney Friday evening, forcing the evacuation of West Park Mall.

Cape Girardeau firefighters quickly subdued the blaze, which was reported shortly after 7:30 p.m. The cause of the fire was undetermined at press time.

"I am a little shaken, but I am all right," J.C. Penney manager Phyllis White said as thick smoked poured out the doors of her store.

A customer told her about the fire, White said. She went to the stock room, which contained mattresses and appliances, and saw flames shooting to the ceiling from among the mattresses, she said.

Employees evacuated the store, then left the mall, she said.

"I was in the men's suits area and I could smell it real bad," said Justin Helderman, a sales support employee.

"It stunk," said Johnathon Bowers, a salesman in the men's department.

The state fire marshall and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms helped the Cape Girardeau fire marshal investigate the fire, said Mark Hasheider, assistant fire chief. Investigators from the outside agencies always assist investigations of commercial fires, he said.

They were still working to find a cause at 10 p.m.

The fire was confined to the storeroom but the entire store suffered substantial smoke damage, Hasheider said. The damage was limited to J.C. Penney, he said.

"The type of material stored in there is one of the reasons we had so much smoke damage to the rest of the business," Hashheider said.

All West Park Mall businesses except J.C. Penney plan to open as normal today, mall manager Paul Dobbins said.

Evacuation of the mall went smoothly despite a large weekend crowd, Dobbins said. "I was only minutes from the center when I received the call, and by the time I got there, everybody was out."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: