Maryland fire investigators said a blaze that destroyed a carpet and flooring business in the Waldorf area last week was set and have asked the public's help in identifying suspects.
The fire started about 7:40 p.m. Monday in a stack of rolled-up rugs inside the warehouse of United Carpet and Floors, a 24-year-old family-owned business in a strip mall in Pinefield, according to Roy Mesler, a deputy state fire marshal.
A store secretary, Chavon Sturdivant, 18, discovered the blaze and tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher. Her efforts fell short, so she called 911 and left the building.
Though the fire started small, it spread quickly, Sturdivant said.
"By the time I got in the parking lot, the building was already halfway burned," she said.
Michael Mosleh, 33, the store's owner, said the warehouse was full of carpets, rugs and lacquered wood floors, and "everything was flammable."
At least 22 volunteer firefighters responded to the blaze and extinguished the one-alarm fire in 20 minutes, Mesler said. But by then, the business and almost all of its contents were destroyed. Mesler said the fire caused $250,000 in damage.
It is still a mystery how the fire started. Mesler said the blaze appeared to be arson because the rugs could only have been set on fire. "We couldn't find anything that could accidentally cause the fire," he said.
Mesler said he is waiting for results from a fire lab that is testing burned material for flame accelerants such as gasoline. No suspects have been identified. Mesler asked anyone with information to call the state fire marshal's office in Prince Frederick at 410-535-8845.
As the investigation goes forward, Mosleh said he is trying to rebuild his business. On Friday, the windows were boarded up and the interior was filled with burned carpet samples, glass and cardboard. The business's red, white and blue sign was darkened with soot.
Mosleh said it would be at least two months before he could reopen his operation in the same office. But he can still take customer orders. He has opened another office a couple of doors down in the same shopping center, and new shipments of carpet and flooring have been ordered.
"We're going to do business," Mosleh said. "It's just difficult right now. We're still in a state of shock."
Mosleh said he had not received any threats recently and did not know of any customers or current and former employees who were angry at him. He said there have been sporadic instances of crime at the shopping center: A nearby Chinese restaurant was recently robbed, and a check cashing center has been robbed several times.