Unknown man sought by businessmen over The Sub fire
February 28, 2017
The owners of a popular San Luis Obispo retail store and head shop that went up in flames more than a year ago say they believe an off-duty firefighter, or a man identifying himself as one, started the fire that destroyed their business. The businessmen are now offering a $1,000 cash reward for photos of or information about the suspect.
On Dec. 26, 2015, a fire broke out at The Sub on Higuera Street around 10:40 a.m. After 8 p.m. that day, smoke was still billowing from the business. When the blaze was finally extinguished, the owners of the business and the San Luis Obispo Fire Department traded blame for the extent of the damage.
The fire department’s incident report lists the cause of the blaze as undetermined. But, the owners of The Sub have said an arsonist or arsonists caused the fire. The business owners are working on a documentary to expose the travesty they say was done to their business.
Two arson investigators whom the owners hired concluded arson was the cause of the fire at The Sub. City fire officials never conducted a forensic investigation of the blaze.
Last week, The Sub rolled out a photo contest that includes multiple cash prizes of up to $1,000. The business is holding the photo contest in attempt to accumulate more evidence of what occurred on the day of the fire.
An advertisement released by The Sub states one of the ways contest participants can win $1,000 is by providing “pictures or information of off-duty fireman (self described — who we think started the fire in window box around 10:40 a.m.).”
Richard Ferris, the co-owner of The Sub, told CalCoastNews that a man arrived at his store around the time the fire started and introduced himself as an off-duty firefighter. Shortly after the fire broke out, the man identifying as on off-duty firefighter asked people to leave the building.
Ferris and his business partners have searched for the man for months but have yet to find him.
In addition to differing over the cause of the blaze, The Sub and the fire department have provided differing accounts of how firefighters responded.
Ferris said he arrived at the scene of the fire 10 minutes after it started. At the time, the blaze was confined to the front box window, but no firefighter would take a hose in the building and fight the fire, Ferris said. The business owner said a single fireman with a hose could have put out the fire.
Additionally, Ferris said firefighters never went inside the business to battle the blaze, and firemen ignored him when he tried to explain the interior of the building.
According to the fire department’s account, firefighters entered the building but retreated because stacks of highly combustible synthetic materials fueled the blaze, causing heavy heat and smoke. Firefighters later reentered the building and again retreated, this time before flaming debris cut off their exit, according to the fire department. From that point on, the firefighters battled the blaze exclusively from the outside of the building.
As part of its contest, The Sub is offering a $1,000 reward for photos of firefighters entering the store to battle the blaze. However, the contest advertisement appears to contain a sarcastic remark implying such photos do not exist and firefighters never entered the building.
“Firemen entering The Sub to fight fire,” the contest advertisement states. “Chief Olson claims they fought inside, so this should be an easy one.”
The Sub is offering cash prizes ranging from $100 to $1,000 for numerous photos. Also, photo and video entries that do not win cash prizes still earn participants $20 gift certificates.
City Attorney Christine Dietrick responded to The Sub’s allegations and photo contest in a statement given to The Tribune.
“The First Amendment permits people to speak, and rational reviewers can reach their own conclusions about the merits of such speech,” Dietrick wrote.
Dietrick also said any legal action The Sub might take against the city over the response to the fire is without merit.
The Sub is currently trying to reopen at the same location, but the business is struggling to gain approval from the city, which has expressed concerns about safety.