Man links South Land Park house fire to vacant nursery

Daniel Sun’s suspicion ran high Sunday about the cause of the fire that wrecked his house and two others on a quiet little stretch of South Land Park this weekend.

Every day, he said, he sees street people who have become more frequent in his neighborhood off Freeport Boulevard since Capital Nursery shut down two years ago.

“Before, I saw homeless a little bit – one or two,” he said. “Now, I see 10. Daily.”

Firefighters don’t know who or what started the Saturday afternoon fire on Meer Way, only that the damage to the three homes that back up to the north side of the old Capital Nursery site have been declared complete losses.

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Sacramento Fire Department spokesman Roberto Padilla said Sunday. “I can tell you that we can’t rule out arson and we can’t rule out accidental at this time.”

Sun traces the emergence of the seemingly homeless people in the neighborhood to the August 2012 closure of Capital Nursery. From his backyard, Sun said he often saw them congregating in the empty greenhouses on the back acreage of the abandoned nursery, beyond the rows and rows of what used to be trees and plants that drew green thumbs from all over Sacramento.

The 9-acre site now sits as empty as it is vast, on the other side of Sun’s rear wooden fence that burned away in Saturday’s fire.

Besides living on Meer Way, Sun also works on it. He runs The 21-Hour Come-N-Go Foodstore on the corner of Meer and Freeport. It’s given him a front-row seat to watch a once-thriving business district sputter through tough times.

Sun said that from the front of his business he watches small gatherings of homeless people who languish in the bushes alongside the empty nursery’s storefront.

“They steal,” he said. “They do everything. They talk and they laugh and they’re crazy, and I hate it too.”

If Daniel Sun has an issue with anyone, it’s Raley’s. The grocery chain bought the property from Capital Nursery with the idea of building a new store, a block north of its existing site on Freeport Boulevard.

“They’ve had it two years – nothing,” Sun said.

The signs on the front of the old nursery say that the property is under 24-hour video surveillance.

Raley’s spokeswoman Nicole Townsend said in an email Sunday that she contacted officials about Sun’s concerns and that they are not aware of any security issues on the property.

“I learned that we do full sweeps of the property daily and that we have not experienced any issues,” Townsend said.

Sun said the demise of Capital Nursery has rippled across Meer Way into his little store.

In the old days, 20 to 30 nursery store workers dropped by every day to buy potato chips, soft drinks, smokes or snacks, Sun said. He’s also been hurt by the closure of a nearby Blockbuster video outlet, a flower shop down the street and a few other shops near the 4700 block of Freeport Boulevard.

There used to be a KFC restaurant right across the street from Sun’s store. Now it’s a Goodwill Industries outlet.

“Seven stores have closed within 200 feet,” Sun said. “Since the recession, so long.”

Sun, 64, said he and his family have lived on Meer Way since 1991. He said he has a daughter in UC Berkeley and another son in high school who also is bound for college.

“It’s a very nice, quiet neighborhood,” he said.

He expects he and his family will stay with friends, but he doesn’t know for sure.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I have to talk to a lawyer. I have no money. Business has been so bad.

“I cannot think. I cannot sleep.”

From his store, Sun walked a half block down to his house that has a soggy, ashen heap in his front yard. He picked his way along the side yard, toward the back, and pointed out a next-door neighbor’s rear shed, which he surmises was the point of origin.

It appears that the fire burned over the fence into his backyard and lit up the rear of his house. The two-alarm blaze required about 50 firefighters to quell, according to city fire officials.

Nearly everything Sun owned wound up in a pile of charred debris out back. The wreckage included his passport, his citizenship papers and a couple of books he had been writing on Buddhism.

On Sunday, while he surveyed the mess, Sun appeared to find a sense of calm, while his discussion touched on the religion and its views on the transitory nature of material things.

“I’m homeless now,” he said, laughing, “but lucky. In a sense, we are all homeless. We just travel around.”