Crime

Boise International Market fire was arson, investigators say

Fire investigators look over the inside of the Boise International Market, which was destroyed in a 2 alarm fire Sept. 19. Nearly 20 vendors were displaced by the blaze.
Fire investigators look over the inside of the Boise International Market, which was destroyed in a 2 alarm fire Sept. 19. Nearly 20 vendors were displaced by the blaze. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Boise police and fire investigators announced the arson determination in a news release Tuesday, four months after the Sept. 5 fire.

“We interviewed a number of vendors in the building and worked with a variety of outside agencies, including private fire investigation experts, to come to this conclusion,” Boise Police Fire Investigations Sgt. John Terry said in the release.

Romeo Gervais, deputy chief and fire marshal for the Boise Fire Department, said previously that the blaze began in the front section of the market.

The building, in the middle of a strip mall near Franklin and Curtis roads, was fully engulfed when firefighters from a station a half-mile away arrived. They called a second alarm. The fire gutted the building.

The multicultural market was an incubator for 16 businesses. Many of the vendors were refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries. Some lost everything in the fire — except for large debts on loans used to purchase equipment, inventory and decorations.

“It’s heartbreaking to learn that someone set this intentionally,” market co-owner Lori Porreca said Tuesday afternoon. “It was bad enough for this to happen, but to find out it was arson makes it even worse.”

The fire destroyed three years of work and dashed vendors’ dreams, she said.

Investigators found no evidence to indicate the fire was a hate crime directed at any of the shop owners or employees.

Initially, Gervais said it did not appear the fire was suspicious. He said the fire started accidentally in or near a garbage can in the coffee shop area. Gervais and a police spokesman were not immediately available Tuesday to explain what led investigators to change their mind.

Video footage reviewed by investigators right after the fire did not show anyone in the area where the blaze began.

Vendors move on

The Treasure Valley community donated generously to a GoFundMe account to help the vendors get by as insurance issues are sorted out. When the fund reached its goal of $50,000, the money was divvied up equally among the businesses — about $3,000 each.

Life’s Kitchen and Creating Common Good are providing kitchen space to displaced restaurateurs who need a place to cook for catering jobs. The business startup assistance program META is sorting through the many offers of temporary business space that came in after the fire and working with those who want to reopen their businesses.

Last month, Jannus Economic Development and Trailhead, a Boise startup hub, launched a temporary market Downtown to showcase some of the international market entrepreneurs’ wares during the holidays.

Offerings included a coffee shop and several restaurants that prepared their food at the local commercial kitchens and brought it to the market.

Joyful Tea owners Terry and Karen Hathaway established a new tea shop this fall at 6711 N. Glenwood St. in Garden City. They remodeled a former coffee shop and rebuilt their inventory of 130 to 140 single estate loose-leaf teas and blends.

No plans have been announced for rebuilding the market at 5823 Franklin Road or reopening it at a new location. The insurance claim has not been settled, and the arson determination also will delay any decisions by Porreca and co-owner Miguel Gaddi, Porreca said.

“We won’t have any closure until this has all finished,” she said.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell

MARKET FIRE INFORMATION

The Boise Police Department continues to seek information about activity that took place in the building that day. A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered by the Idaho Arson Award Program for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of person(s) responsible for this fire.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Idaho State Fire Marshal’s Office Arson Line at (877) 75-ARSON, or Crime Stoppers at 343-COPS. You can also submit your tip on their website, or text “Tip236” plus your message to 274637 (CRIMES).

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