VALLEJO, Calif. (KTVU) - A 3 alarm blaze in Vallejo Thursday morning destroyed one building, a former Straw Hat Pizza, vacant for five years.
Other buildings were damaged, not from flames, but a broken water main. The owner of the burned building and his contractor blame the fire and aftermath on transients who they say continually break in.
"I've been threatened by the homeless, sometimes when I've asked them to leave," building contractor Gene Catania told KTVU, "and I've welded shut the back doors before, and somehow they got in through the roof."
Catania notes squatters were frequently seen coming in and out, and there had been several small fires on the property previously.
"I think they were trying to keep warm, I don't think they burned it down on purpose," he noted. Complaints to police, he says, offered no solution.
"We stopped calling at a certain point because there's really nothing they could do," said Catania, "and we get the same response: it's private property."
Thursday evening, the charred site was being secured once again, with the same chain-link fence vandals frequently cut through.
Elsewhere in the strip mall, a handful of merchants spent the day dealing with the torrent of water that flowed from the failed water main at the height of the fire.
"Business goes on, still got to cut some hair, everybody needs a haircut," said Dan Cristobal, owner of One of One Barbershop, which had several inches of water on the floor near his front windows. .
The concrete walkway outside was buckled a foot high by the ruptured main.
"I've had a lot of phone calls today, while working, so it was kind of hard doing my job, talking to property management and insurance and trying to cut hair," said Cristobal.
The water main failed as Vallejo Fire was pumping 3,000 gallons a minute on the fire, connected to a hydrant in the parking lot.
Most likely, the aging main couldn't withstand the the surging pressure.
Water also flowed into the "99 cent" store, and a non-profit office, which had its sodden carpet piled outside the door.
Worst hit: a family-owned furniture store where the main ruptured in a second spot, under the floor, sending a few inches of water throughout the showroom.
"You can walk over it and feel it, you feel the holes in concrete, it's cracked," said Thang Luu, owner of Cost-Rite Furniture.
The store has been in business for 27 years and at the Sonoma Boulevard location for 3 years.
"I feel sad, we've been here, we want to do business and now we don't know what happens," said Luu.
Cost-Right will have to remove saturated carpeting, repair the floor and walls, and evaluate damage to the furniture that fills the store.
"It's totally a disaster for us," said salesman Rene Santos, one of four employees.
"This is our house here, we don't want anything to happen to our family, it really hurts."
The furniture store expects to be closed for at least a month.