A man has been arrested and charged with igniting a massive blaze that destroyed a Home Depot earlier this month in South San Jose, authorities said Monday, as newly released records show that the store had been cited by city fire inspectors for failing to show proof its fire alarm and sprinkler systems were fully operational.
Authorities believe the man arrested ignited the five-alarm fire that broke out on April 9 in the lumber section of the Home Depot at 920 Blossom Hill Road. No one died in the fire — which was so intense at its peak that its heat signature was detected in space by orbiting weather satellites — though the residual effects left neighborhood residents fending off noxious smoke for at least two days after.
Multiple law-enforcement sources told this news organization that the arrest occurred over the weekend, meaning the person detained could be arraigned in court as soon as Tuesday afternoon. But details including his identity and motive for setting the store ablaze were not immediately released.
Meanwhile, inspection records from January 2021 revealed that San Jose fire officials registered concerns about the fire alarm and sprinkler systems of the 98,000-square-foot building. Customers and employees who were at the Home Depot when the fire broke out have questioned why the store’s fire alarms apparently did not sound until nearly everyone was outside of the building and whether the store’s sprinklers ever activated.
The records obtained by this news organization indicate that during the January inspection, San Jose’s Bureau of Fire Prevention asked the Home Depot store to provide records of its annual inspections of the fire alarm system and to service its sprinkler system “ASAP” or show documentation that system had been inspected within the past five years. The records indicate that inspectors were following up on violations found during a prior visit less than a month earlier, in December 2020.
The San Jose Fire Department said late Monday that the violations were subsequently remedied but did not make clear how or when.
A subsequent hazmat inspection on Oct. 5, 2021 — the last time the site was examined by safety officials — uncovered a separate violation regarding an inadequate amount of workspace for electrical service equipment. That violation was remedied less than a month later, the inspection report indicates.
The city’s fire code states that facilities such as the Home Depot should be inspected annually to ensure that sprinkler systems, water pipes and other fire protection systems are up to date.
Dispatchers were alerted to the blaze at about 5:30 p.m. on April 9, when they received numerous calls from employees and patrons about a commercial structure fire, according to fire officials. The Home Depot store, housed in a shopping center across from Westfield Oakridge Mall, went up in flames within minutes, sending customers and employees fleeing for their lives.
More than 100 firefighters responded to the scene and the neighborhood behind the store in an attempt to prevent any damage to nearby homes and businesses.
The intense heat that the flames put off — created by a mixture of lumber, chemicals and paint products inside — formed a massive plume of black and gray smoke and was so strong that it was detected by orbiting satellites. It took firefighters six hours to get the blaze under control. Officials have not yet provided a cost estimate for the building’s destruction and loss of store merchandise.
Monday’s arrest news came more than a week after investigators began working to determine the cause of the fire. Agents with the ATF arrived at the scene on April 13 to assist with the investigation. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office has announced a Tuesday morning news conference with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, the city’s fire and police departments and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to discuss the arrest and other details of the fire investigation.
The San Jose fire would not be the first blaze sparked by an arsonist at a Home Depot. In June 2017, an arsonist in Canada was sentenced to five years in jail for allegedly using a lighter to spark a blaze in the paint section of a Home Depot store.
In March 2018, a 50-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of setting a fire inside a Home Depot store in Mesa, Arizona. And just two years ago, a Home Depot employee in Ohio was indicted on a felony charge for allegedly purposefully setting the store he worked at on fire, according to reports.
But while some of the Home Depot stores suffered extensive fire and water damage in these cases, it does not appear that any of them were leveled in the way that the San Jose store was.