There has been much confusion over what caused the fire that destroyed the historic building at 324 S. El Paso Street. Erected in 1885, it was owned by Chun Mei Chuang, who had purchased it from Paul Foster on August 5, 2022. It burned only 129 days later, on December 12.
KFOX14 REPORTS “DUMPSTER FIRE”
The first media reports, from KFOX14 (December 12) and CBS4 (December 13), stated that “the fire started in a dumpster and spread to the building.” The News Director did not respond to my inquiry into the source of this statement.
EL PASO INC: “THE FIRE STARTED WITHIN THE INTERIOR OF THE BUILDING”
In January, Jesus Ortega, an arson investigator with the Office of the Marshal, told El Paso Inc that “the fire started within the interior of the building” and not in a dumpster. An official with the El Paso Fire Department added that the Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire started in the basement.
EPPD CLAIMS THE FIRE WAS “UNINTENTIONAL”
On March 6, KVIA released the results of the EPPD investigation into the fire. The 19-page report was prepared by investigators R. Martinez, J. Ortega, A. Ortega, and A Rivera.
Following a “Scientific Methodology,” they determined the fire started about 8:44am and “originated at or near the Bravo/Charlie side of the structure. Upon conclusion of the forensic origin and cause examination, the fire cause was determined to be an unknown heat source. This fire was classified as UNINTENTIONAL. This case is CLOSED.”
It is interesting that “there were no smoke detectors found during the investigation. No sounds of a smoke detector or alarm were described by fire crews or witnesses.”
After the examination, the Investigators spoke with the owner, Chun Mei Chuang, who stated “that she was made aware of the fire by one of her employees who saw the fire on the news and called her. Mrs. Mei stated that the last time someone was in the building was the day before at about 6:00pm.”
It is also interesting that at 8:44am on a Monday morning there was no one at the business. Why didn’t the media interview Mrs. Mei?
The EPPD has three hypotheses for the fire:
(1) A failure of an unknown electrical component.
(2) Heat source next to combustibles.
(3) Unknown heat generation from an unknown source.
I am not going to point my finger at anyone but something here does not seem right.
Tragically, the City of El Paso permitted the demolition of the entire building, including the facade, which could have been structurally reinforced and saved.
Not a single statement came out of the City expressing concern about a gaping hole in the historic architectural fabric along the oldest street in El Paso.
The 2017 County architectural survey determined that 324 S. El Paso Street was one of 191 downtown buildings that could have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Now there are 190.
When I arrived in El Paso in 2009 there were 200.