Fire Destroys Columbia Strip Mall

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COLUMBIA - An early morning fire destroyed at least five businesses in the strip mall at Garth and Business Loop 70 Sunday. The Columbia Fire Department responded to the call around 4:45 a.m. The building partially collapsed just before 9:00 a.m.

Columbia Fire Department estimates $2 million in building damages and $4 million in lost inventory.

When firefighters arrived, they found much of the building engulfed in flames. Firefighters said the fire was too dangerous for crews to go inside the building, so firefighters took a defensive approach by attacking the fire from the outside of the strip mall. At least 35 firefighters were on the scene.

Heavy smoke limited visibility on Business Loop 70, and Columbia police and fire rerouted traffic and closed Garth Street most of Sunday afternoon.

Members of the Columbia Public Works and Department of Natural Resources tested water spreading throughout the neighborhood for dangerous chemicals from O'Reilly Auto Parts. As of Sunday afternoon, all tests had come back neutral.

Just before 11:00 a.m. crews began tearing down the building as about 75 onlookers gathered to watch the clean-up efforts. The Salvation Army set up a center with food and drinks for the team of firefighters working on the building.

Several neighbors expressed concern about losing the Dollar General store, because many people in the area don't have cars and walk to the store to do their grocery shopping. 

Fire investigators said the fire began in the north end of the building, but will not be able to find exactly what started the fire for several days. The owner of the property, Real Estate Management Incorporated, will have private security on the scene overnight. Columbia Fire Department will also have teams monitoring the damage throughout the night.

The Columbia Fire Department said no injuries have been reported.

Watch video from shortly after the fire started here (Courtesy Steven Sapp):

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