Businesses in Sacramento’s Town and Country West strip mall were made to evacuate Tuesday from a building that the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District found unsafe because of state fire code violations.
Problems with the building, which is on Fulton Avenue and hosts dozens of stores, included insufficient or broken equipment to detect and contain fire, such as smoke alarms and sprinklers, said Capt. Chris Vestal of the fire district. Holes also compromised the walls’ ability to stop fire from spreading, Vestal said, and a stair railing could have collapsed under someone’s weight.
Vestal could not say when the building might be safe to use again, but he said the violations are not quick fixes and will require architectural and engineering input. The fire district will expedite approval of plans to correct the issues, he said.
“Our goal is to get people back in business and back to their jobs fast,” he said. “We’re definitely cognizant of the inconvenience, but the ultimate goal is to keep people safe.”
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According to Vestal, firefighters discovered the violations because a special event permit required an inspection.
The evacuation was sudden but not a surprise to tenants of the shopping center, who had been complaining about the state of their building for years, said Raimond Irimescu, who was among those forced out. He owns Paul’s Watch and Clock Repair with his father.
“The stairs, the rails, the bathrooms, everything’s falling apart,” he said. “Everyone’s been telling the owner to fix things for years. They haven’t really been doing anything.”
The building owner, whom a Town and Country West employee identified as Manzar Qayyum, did not respond immediately to requests for comment, and the strip mall’s management did not respond to messages left Thursday afternoon. The owner met with Sacramento County officials at 1:30 p.m. Thursday to discuss issues with the building and plans for dealing with them, said Vestal, who couldn’t speak to the plans’ specifics.
According to Irimescu, about 20 firefighters inspected the strip mall premises – an unusual sight given that previous routine inspections have involved only a couple of officers, he said.
After business hours on Tuesday, Irimescu said, building management put up signs on stores’ doors announcing that the building was being shut down. Irimescu arrived that night after a call from another one of the shopping center’s business owners, who urged him to come and gather his belongings. Security would not let anyone in the building, he said.
The next morning, doors bore more signs requesting immediate evacuation, Irimescu said.
The U.S. Post Office was the only business in the building not forced to leave, Vestal said, because it is under federal jurisdiction. However, the Post Office announced in a statement Thursday morning that it is relocating its Town and Country mailboxes to its Sacramento Centre Branch at 3545 El Camino Ave. Customers can currently pick up their mail from there.
According to the statement, the Post Office is “working with the building owner to see when we can return.”
On Thursday afternoon, Irimescu was in the building to gather some last things. He said authorities were letting people in only to retrieve valuables. Unsure when the strip mall might reopen, he and his father are looking for a new location for their store, which set up at Town and Country West 17 years ago.
“Regardless of what happens, honestly, at this point … I really don’t want to be there anymore,” Irimescu said.