A fire that was deliberately set destroyed a Southeast building from which a funeral home had been evicted on Monday, D.C. fire officials said yesterday.
The two-alarm blaze in the basement of the two-story building at 2301 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE was reported at 1:43 a.m., fire officials said. The building had once been the 11th Precinct police station and until Monday had housed the Dunn & Sons Funeral Service.
The intense fire burned for more than an hour, spreading to the first and second floors before it was brought under control.
A total of 87 firefighters fought the blaze using 34 pieces of equipment. Nine firefighters were treated at the scene for exhaustion and smoke inhalation, but no other injuries were reported, according to Deputy Fire Chief Ray Alfred. He said damage to the building was estimated at $100,000.
Alfred said the fire has been ruled as arson but declined to discuss details.
Three deputy U.S. marshals on Monday afternoon had supervised the eviction of Willis and William Dunn, brothers who had rented the building since September 1984.
Before the business opened last November, the building's owner, King Associates, sued the Dunns for nonpayment of rent. The suit, filed in D.C. Superior Court in May, claimed the Dunns were $12,800 in arrears.
According to court records, the two sides reached an agreement in June allowing the Dunns to pay the back rent on a staggered schedule. Last month, the owners sought to evict the Dunns, claiming the back rent had not been paid.
Willis Dunn said the company ran into financial problems because a business loan he had hoped to receive from the city was not granted. "I thought we were doing pretty good," he said. "We made enough money to pay the rent, but it then became a choice of paying the rent or not having any money to function. We were always on the holding end waiting for insurance companies and estates to pay, but we had to pay costs up front."
Dunn said that when he watched the eviction crew remove 12 coffins and office furniture and put them on the sidewalk, it ended a dream to one day turn the business over to his children. The "sons" referred to in the funeral home's name are yet unborn, Dunn said.
Dunn said that he has not returned to the building since the eviction and that he knows of no one else who had access to it. "I heard that it was deliberately set, but I stand nothing to gain, the loss had already been made. We didn't have any insurance."
David Dale, one of three owners of the business, said, "I don't have any speculation. I stay away from Anacostia as much as I can. I don't know anything about what's going on."