FORT COLLINS - A suspicious fire causing more than $1 million in damage to a Fort Collins sign business Thursday morning may be connected with an overnight burglary at the same building and another down the street, police say.
"It looks like somebody had broken in," Pete Thomas, owner of Signs Now said. Multiple computers were missing, and some tools also appear to have been taken, he said.
Reported at about 4:43 a.m., the fire in Signs Now caused "very, very devastating" damage to the building at 1438 Riverside Avenue, which didn't have fire sprinklers, said Capt. Patrick Love with Poudre Fire Authority. The fire was under control by 7:40 a.m.
Police report that a door at the business appeared to have been broken open, and detectives are working to confirm whether the building was burglarized, according to a news release from Fort Collins Police Services. Yellow police tape surrounded the building Thursday afternoon as investigators remained at the scene near sunset.
People at Painter's Supply a couple blocks away also reported a burglary to police Thursday morning. Investigators found that someone had forced entry into that building at 1626 Riverside and taken computer equipment along with a small amount of cash. The owner told 9News that a delivery truck was among items that disappeared from his business overnight.
At Signs Now, Love said firefighters arrived to see flames, which soon started coming through the roof. At that point, firefighters decided it was too dangerous to go inside because it might collapse. Once the fire was under control, firefighters began going inside to extinguish hotspots.
They pulled numerous signs from the building, hosing them with water and stacking them as putrid smoke continued to rise. Multiple firefighters slipped on the icy ground, but nobody was injured at the fire. Police blocked traffic through the area for several hours, and the cause remains under investigation.
Thomas said Signs Now has been making signs for area businesses since 1989, and it will temporarily move some operations to its other shop in Greeley. Thomas said they intend to eventually reopen at the same Fort Collins location.
"Luckily, we've got a strong staff, and a strong group of customers and friends that are rallying behind us and going to help us be stronger than ever before," Thomas said.
He said his business had never had a break-in since it moved into the Riverside location in 2007. He learned of the fire when he got a phone call at 5 a.m. Thursday.
"It's a quick end to the holidays, let's just say that," he said.
Fire crews worked from ladders above the building as well as the ground near the loading area at the rear of the building. Crews on ladders also removed parts of the buildings west-facing exterior in order to get water on the flames. Love estimated that around 30 firefighters and six engines responded to the fire.
Love also said a sprinkler system might have saved the building.
"If there were a sprinkler system in place, we wouldn't be seeing this," Love said. "We would still be out here, but the damage wouldn't be this bad. One, maybe two heads take care of it."
Police said it's unclear whether the Painter's Supply burglary is connected with the Signs Now fire and possible burglary, and detectives are seeking tips from anyone who may have noticed suspicious activity in the area between 8 p.m. Wednesday and 5 a.m. Thursday.
People with information are asked to call Det. Kyle Bendzsa at (970) 221-6577 or Crime Stoppers of Larimer County at (970) 221-6868, where you may remain anonymous and possibly receive a cash reward. Crime Stoppers may also be reached through its website, www.stopcriminals.org.
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