Three-Alarm Fire Destroys St. Louis Business

ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- The Afghan Market on South Grand Boulevard went up in flames early Thursday in a three-alarm fire.

St. Louis firefighters escaped injury, although a wall collapsed while they were trying to fight the blaze. Fire crews had gotten out of the building before the wall collapsed, said Fire Capt. Dan Sutter.

The fire broke out about 12:30 a.m. Thursday at the store, in the 3700 block of South Grand Boulevard near Chippewa Street. The cause is under investigation, Sutter said.

When fire crews arrived, they were met with large amounts of smoke, Sutter said. The third alarm was struck so fire crews could get more help.

The firefighters were able to confine the fire to the grocery. An auto repair business to the south and another business to the north sustained minor damage, Sutter said.

Gul M. Totakhil said he has owned the store since 2004. Totakhil, who lives in Maryland Heights, said he got a phone call early Thursday from a friend who was driving by the store and saw the smoke. The friend had called 911, but authorities had already been notified.

Totakhil rushed to the store, and he said he could see the smoke as soon as he got off Highway 40 (Interstate 64) at Grand.

Totakhil was still at the scene Thursday when the sun came up, and he spoke with a reporter as he surveyed the damage.

"We have three walls," Totakhil said. "It looks like everything has been lost."

Totakhil said he doesn't own the building but he plans to reopen the store, even if it has to be at another location.

"We've worked so hard for this place," he said. "It's kind of a unique place for the community we have here. Middle Eastern, African, Asian products."

Totakhil, a native of Afghanistan, said the store had about 200 customers a day, many of whom are immigrants from Africa and the Arab world.

The store had a bakery and sold products ranging from African, Asian, Indian and European foodstuffs to international phone cards, clothes and kitchenware.

Totakhil said the fire started in the back of the store, in the bakery area where there is a brick oven.

"There is no evidence so far" about what sparked the fire, Totakhil said. "The building has been damaged pretty much. The Fire Department is saying it's going to be hard to determine.

"It was just unbelievable that this happened," he added. "I still cannot imagine that this happened."

Totakhil said he is grateful that no one was hurt.

"We can replace this and bring it back," he said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service