Fire Ravages Texas Strip Center

Fort Worth firefighters work to control the fire at Stonegate Commons on Saturday morning.

Bootsie Coggins, left, and her daughter Madelyn Rice Gibbs look at the damage at their store, Mehl's Shoeland. The store, a family-run institution for a half-century, was previously on Berry Street.

Fire damages businesses

Expressions Custom Furniture store was destroyed and Mehl's Shoeland sustained extensive smoke and water damage in a three-alarm fire early Saturday at Stonegate Commons, a strip center at 2900 S. Hulen St.

Damage to the stucco-and-steel building was estimated at $500,000. Damage to the stock at the furniture and shoe stores was estimated at $650,000, said Lt. Kent Worley, a Fire Department spokesman.

Worley said that the exact cause of the fire was under investigation but that it appears to have been electrical.

The strip center also contains Bistro Louise, a popular restaurant, and a State Farm Insurance agency, which was at the far end of the building and was undamaged.

The restaurant had minor smoke damage. Cleanup was under way Saturday afternoon, and owner/chef Louise Lamensdorf said she will reopen for lunch Tuesday.

"We were very lucky," she said. "Not even a wine glass was broken."

The Fire Department received the call at 6:51 a.m. from a motorist who was driving past when heat blew out a display window at the furniture store, which faced Hulen Street.

Worley said fire units arrived in minutes, but the furniture store was already engulfed in flames fueled by the wood and fabric.

"When the first unit arrived, the steel roof had already self-vented itself," Worley said. He said that would indicate that the fire had been burning for some time before it blew out the window.

Richard Karotkin, an owner of the furniture store, said he will set up a temporary location. He said the store records survived, but little else. He said he was unsure if he will reopen at the same location. The store opened there in February 1996.

The damage at Mehl's, a family-run institution for a half-century, was primarily from water and smoke.

Madelyn Rice Gibbs, a third-generation owner, said that the store was fully stocked for the back-to-school shoppers and that most, if not all, of the stock was damaged.

Rice said she was unsure when the store will reopen. The store, which operated for decades at 2621 W. Berry St., moved to the current site in January 1996.

The 71,220-square-foot building, built in 1995, does not have a sprinkler system.