Business ablaze

By Cris Romero - Staff Reporter

A 64-year-old Des Moines woman has been charged with first degree arson for a fire Sunday afternoon that heavily damaged a strip mall just east of the Highline campus.

Linda Katherine Poplawski made a second appearance in court yesterday, charged with setting the blaze in the Dollar Tree in the 23400 block of Pacific Highway South. She is being held on a bail of $225,000.

Poplawski remains in custody at the Seattle Correctional Facility.

The fire also destroyed or damaged a neighboring smoke shop, gym, salon and a specialty food store, plus the Midway Post Office. All establishments remained closed yesterday afternoon.

Dispatchers received a call just before 3 p.m. and the status quickly grew to three alarms, drawing more than 75 firefighters from multiple fire agencies to assist Kent Regional Fire Authority crews.

According to the case summary filed with the superior court, Polawski was upset due to the lack of available shopping carts at the store. She then left the store, returned and went to the cards and party supplies aisle, then left the store and told employees the store was on fire.

Employees found a fire in that aisle.

Workers from all establishments in the mall were immediately evacuated and no injuries were reported.

Firefighters arrived to find thick, acrid smoke belching from the complex and snarled traffic along nearby Pacific Highway South. Kent firefighters would remain on scene monitoring the fire more than 12 hours after the fire started.

"The fire lasted over 24 hours," said Eric Peterson, Kent RFA arson investigator.

He said Wednesday that the fire is still being investigated and authorities have yet to determine the estimated loss resulting from the fire.

With the total destruction of the Dollar Tree, an undetermined number of employees are facing a holiday season without a job.

"[We] will look for opportunities to transfer them off to different stores around the area," said Randy, a spokesman for Dollar Tree who declined to give his last name.

He also said that a determination as to whether or not a new Dollar Tree will be built in the same location or nearby is pending.

Ernest Swanson, a spokesman for the Postal Service, said that only one person was working during the time of the fire and she is now working at an office in Kent.

"We are awaiting word from the landlord and from there we will decide if we will remain in the same place," Swanson said.

Mail from the damaged post office was salvaged and is now available for pick up at the Kent Post Office 216 W. Gowe St.

Yesterday, debris from the fire remained scattered throughout the property and beyond. Crews are working on cleaning the property to ensure a proper investigation is conducted. The rear section of the building is not as damaged as the front portion. The Smoke Shop is completely boarded up.

The property is owned by Muscatel Midway Properties. Efforts to reach the property owner were unsuccessful.

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