Investigators unable to determine cause of Center Plaza fire

Investigators seeking answers as to what started a fire that destroyed nine businesses at Federal Way’s Center Plaza shopping complex in late May wrapped up their probe Wednesday unable to determine a cause.

The blaze gutted Subway, Total Vape, Mi Tiendita Latina II, Al’s Music & Games, 2NE Pho, Ace Dry Cleaners, Emerald City Smoothie, a smoke shop and MOA Hair Studio, May 21.

South King Fire & Rescue Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal Gordon Goodsell said in a press release Wednesday evening that investigators from multiple agencies thoroughly examined the area of the fire’s origin and obtained statements from witnesses, business owners and employees in their investigation.

Investigators determined the fire originated in the 2NE Pho restaurant, either in the kitchen or the attic above.

“The roof above the kitchen was completely consumed by the fire, leaving little physical evidence to examine,” according to the press release.

Investigators confirmed, however, the kitchen’s cooking appliances did not cause the fire. They also ruled out careless behavior by business owners or employees and found no indication the blaze was the result of a crime.

The investigation was conducted by SKFR investigators, Federal Way Police detectives, Seattle agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a team of 13 investigators and engineers representing insurance companies with policies on the building and businesses.

According to the press release, the building and business owners have been making plans to begin the process of demolition and removal, which will start soon.

At the Federal Way City Council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Jim Ferrell recognized the firefighters who responded to the blaze and lauded their efforts in containing it to the one building and preventing it from spreading to adjacent buildings in the shopping complex.

The 22,000-square-foot building, 2020 S. 320th St., did not have a fire alarm or sprinklers.

Firefighters received the 911 call at 4:25 a.m. the day of the fire and were on scene five minutes later. They battled the blaze throughout the morning and were still monitoring the site into the afternoon. They used an estimated 1 million gallons of water to put out the fire.

The building and its contents were valued at $5 million.