Businesses look for new homes after Mount Auburn office fire

Wednesday, December 7, 2011
An office building at 1707 N. Mt. Auburn Rd. in Cape Girardeau was severely damaged in a late-night fire that broke out just before midnight on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. (Kristin Eberts)

When Jentry Maxwell left work around 9 p.m. Nov. 21, it was the end of a normal Monday at his air purification business, J and J Hyla. When he showed up the next morning, it marked the start of a frantic Tuesday.

That's because almost two hours after Maxwell locked the doors to his suite in the office complex at 1707 N. Mount Auburn Road, police say Mark Carleton, 26, torched the complex using a lighter and paper. The complex was condemned by the city the next day, and the seven businesses that occupied it were forced to scramble to find new offices.

"It's been an ordeal," said Maxwell, general manager at J and J Hyla. "Going to work and finding out it's burned down was quite a surprise."

Since the fire, which didn't destroy J and J Hyla's belongings but left them covered in soot, the company secured an office at 625 E. Main St. in Jackson. The fire also caused the company to lose some employees who sought other work after the alleged arson. While at the Mount Auburn location, J and J Hyla employed 12 people.

Carleton worked for RGIS Inventory Services, which occupied two of the building's offices. According to a probable-cause statement, Carleton was carrying a respirator mask and told an emergency service responder and a police officer at the scene that he set the fire because he was upset with a recent pay cut. The company is evaluating what to do with its Cape Girardeau branch and declined to comment on the fire, RGIS spokesman Jeff Brinza said in an email.

"The selfishness of one person has messed up the business of several others," Maxwell said.

Consolidated Insurance Agency office manager Nancy Strauser learned of the fire when her police officer friend phoned her at 2:15 a.m. Nov. 22 to tell her what happened. The independent insurance company had occupied the building since the 1990s and moved to a temporary location at 3262 Lexington Ave. shortly after the fire. Strauser expects to be at that location for up to eight months.

The agency's furniture and many of its computers were damaged by smoke.

"It's been a nightmare," Strauser said, noting that almost everything damaged was salvageable.

The agency's computers were out of commission for a week while they were cleaned by a computer recovery service in St. Louis, and its four agents went without furniture while soot was removed.

"We had a laptop and lawn chairs," Strauser said.

Mati Stone was walking out of her home to go to work at Personal Solutions Nov. 22 when her 8 a.m. appointment called her to see if they were still meeting. The company, which provides therapy to teenagers and adults with mental issues, lost all its electronics and had to reupholster its furniture.

Personal Solutions will move to a new location Jan. 3. Stone, who owns the company with her husband, declined to comment where it may move but said the company is considering two Cape Girardeau locations.

"You think we'd enjoy a little time off because of this, but there are a lot of things we have to do," Stone said. "This has given us some very unusual stress."

Architect John Parkinson had just moved into his office in the complex two weeks before the fire and said that while it's unsettling to move out after moving in, it could be worse.

"I was getting geared up to start a project in Cape," said Parkinson, president of the Carbondale, Ill.-based Image Architects. "If this had happened later while I was in the middle of the project, it would have been bad."

Parkinson said he will move into a new location in Cape Girardeau in the middle of the month. He declined to comment where it would be and what project he will be working on while in Cape Girardeau.

Among the businesses affected by the fire, American Homecare Management has moved to 2749 Thomas St., while Substance Abuse Traffic Offenders' Program (SATOP), a government program that is required for someone get a driver's license reinstated after a driving-while-intoxicated conviction, is still assessing what it wants to do. Calls to the SATOP office in the condemned complex are directed to the program's Farmington, Mo., office.

American Homecare Management media relations and SATOP officials did not immediately return calls seeking further information.

Carleton is charged with second-degree arson and waived his formal arraignment Nov. 28. He'll be in court for a preliminary hearing Dec. 15.


Pertinent address:

1707 N. Mt. Auburn Rd., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

625 E. Main St., Jackson Mo.

3262 Lexington Ave., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

2749 Thomas St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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