Cross Creek fire deemed electrical

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Los Angeles County Fire Department officials say the April 17 fire at Cross Creek Plaza was a result of an electrical problem in the building; affected business owners, including Ken Nagai of Ben & Jerry’s, discuss the rebuilding process.

By Kevin Connelly / Special to The Malibu Times

The April 17 fire that damaged or destroyed nearly a third of Malibu’s Cross Creek Plaza as well as six vehicles was started by an electrical malfunction in the building, according to Fire Captain David Enriquez at Los Angeles County Fire Department Fire Station 88.

Insurance estimates and deconstruction projects are occurring at the businesses destroyed or damaged by the fire: Bay Cities Beauty Supply, Casa Escobar, Fast Frame, Ben & Jerry’s and The New Malibu Theater. Cross Creek Plaza owner Steve Soboroff was unsure what the total repair costs and the time frame of reconstruction would be, but he was optimistic of a complete recovery.

“If I was a betting man,” Soboroff said, “I’d say if you came back to [Cross Creek Plaza] a year from today you wouldn’t even know there had been a fire there. I’m not too worried about the cost of the repairs because we were insured and our insurance covers seven times the cost of the fire damage.”

If any of the previous tenants are unable to remain at the plaza once construction is complete, Soboroff said, dozens of other businesses are interested in the property. “I’m really anxious to get started [on construction] and get back [in the plaza],” he said. “I really want to help [these affected businesses] out.”

One of the owners of these affected businesses is Chris Cavette of Fast Frame, a framing and art supplies business. Cavette said that, in addition to the building, Fast Frame suffered the loss of its main equipment, the majority of Cavette’s personal watercolors as well as some of the store’s customers’ artwork. In describing a scene where he was running out of the burning building with six Los Angeles County firefighters, Cavette said he was able to salvage roughly 90 percent of his customers’ artwork.

“The firemen were just great,” Cavette said.

Cavette said he has no idea when he will be able to move back into Cross Creek Plaza, but he mentioned December as a date being thrown around. Cavette said he plans on operating his business out of a modular unit until then.

Also affected by the April fire was Bay Cities Beauty Supply owner Sandy Sampson. Sampson said she has neither heard insurance estimates of her losses nor been given a time frame for repair, but said she had heard from fire inspectors that the fire began about the roof in a common area near her store. She said the inspectors ruled out both human error and arson.

“This is a tremendous tragedy,” said Sampson, who encourages her local clientele to use her other business by the same name on 320 Santa Monica Blvd. “I would appreciate the help,” she said.

Ken Nagai, co-owner of the Ben & Jerry’s franchise, operated his business out of the plaza for five years. He was admittedly upset with the way fire is affecting his business: “This summer was looking like it was going to be very profitable,” he said. “Teachers and kids have come up to me after the fire and asked me how I was doing and I would tell them about the store. It’s touching to know they actually wanted to know how I was doing personally.”

Nagai said his franchise had planned to participate in a nationwide free-cone day on April 29, where customers would have been given free ice cream from noon to 8 p.m. Because the April 17 fire cancelled these plans, Nagai plans on holding a free-cone day when he and his wife move back into Cross Creek Plaza months from now in what he plans on being a large event with live music.

Luckily, Nagai said, his business is covered by insurance, which allows him to supplement the lost income until he resumes work. Nagai, who said he has let go eight to 10 part-time employees as a result of the fire, operates the ice cream franchise with his wife, Sandra.

The other two affected business owners were unable to be reached for a response at the time of this report, but John Hunter, chief operating officer of the Wallace Theaters company that operates The New Malibu Theater, previously told The Malibu Times that the fire could actually lead to a radical improvement of the theater, possibly adding stadium seating to the theater.

Ryan Horton, a manager at The New Malibu Theater at the time of the fire, said he was unable to comment about his job status, but Elise Laetz, a theater employee, talked about the loss of her job.

“The job was definitely very helpful for me,” the 17 year-old senior at Malibu High School said. “I was on a leave of absence from the theater at the time of the fire due to [participation in] a school musical, but it was a great way for me to earn some spending money and start saving for college.”

Laetz said she was interviewing for a job at Starbucks this week and she plans on either attending San Francisco State University or UC Santa Cruz.

In regard to possible explanations of the electrical fire that terminated the employment of Laetz and many others, Fire Captain A.J. Cunningham at L.A. County Fire Station 88 explained possible causes: “It’s numerous,” he said. “It could have been old wiring, wiring that was chewed on by rodents, a bad connection or even something else.”

Cunningham said electrical fires are reasonably common from his experience as a firefighter and could be avoided by getting buildings checked by certified electricians and making sure circuits are not overloaded.