Fire investigation delayed: Building too dangerous |

Fire investigation delayed: Building too dangerous

Mary Thompson

The investigation into a fire that destroyed the four-story Lakefront professional building Sunday is being delayed by the unsound condition of the structure, investigators said.

“The building is very unstable, especially on the lake side,” said Detective Larry Olsen of the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. “We have to make sure it’s safe before we can go in there and start looking around.”

Olsen said collapsing of the roof and structural wall supports, which have been weakened by the fire, are safety hazards in the now defunct building that housed more than 10 businesses.

Incident commander Scott Douglass, of the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, said the safety concerns have limited the investigation to the outside of the structure.

“The investigation has been from the peripheral,” he said. “We can only look from the outside in and get statements from witnesses at this point.”

He did not disclose what information the fire department has received from witnesses.

Detective Olsen said the police department called the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the State Fire Marshall to aid in the investigation.

Jim Flanigan, ATF special agent, said it’s not unusual for local agencies to call in state and federal investigators for fires of this size.

“Once a fire in a commercial building reaches a certain amount of dollar loss, the ATF sends investigators,” he said. “This building meets the criteria.”

According to El Dorado County Assessors Office, the 9,100-square-foot building’s current property value is $404,442, a figure much lower than the real worth of the building, which police estimated at $1.2 million because of the lakefront location. The Assessors Office said the value is recorded lower because the property hasn’t changed hands since 1973 when Villa Del Mar Properties, a South Lake Tahoe Company, bought it.

Bill Conlon, one of the owners of the building, said he’s planning to rebuild the structure but is primarily concerned with finding new locations for the tenants who rented out space in complex.

Incident commander Douglass said fires of this size are uncommon in South Lake Tahoe.

“Statistically, we’ve only seen (three other) fires of this magnitude in the last 10 years,” he said.

Those three fires at the Lake Tahoe Inn, the Beachcomber resort and the Silver Slipper Motel fire near Stateline.

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