OAKLAND, Calif. -- Arson investigators today questioned a warehouse owner about an irate customer who threatened to put him out of business only days before a suspicious fire burst into a six-alarm conflagration that threatened nearby homes.
The blaze Tuesday night at Heskett's Carpet Coliseum, easily seen across the bay in San Francisco, rapidly rose to six alarms, the city's highest designation.
Nearly half the city's firefighters -- about 85 men -- were ordered out to combat the flames before it was finally brought under control two hours later, Fire Capt. John Speakman said.
'It was a hot, smoky blaze and hard to combat,' Speakman said. He said the combustible synthetics used in carpets caused added problems by emitting 'hydrogen sulfate and carbon monoxide to name a few,' forcing crews to use air tanks while fighting the fire.
'What the hell can you say?' owner Leon Haskett said. 'When you work for 30 years to build a business ... and it's gone in 30 minutes ... what can you say?'
Haskett said someone came into his combination warehouse-showroom recently and threatened to kill him and run him out of business. Neither Haskett nor fire investigators would elaborate on the threats.
Haskett said he had about $1 million worth of carpeting in the building and his losses may run over $3 million.
Speakman said officials were investigating the possibility of arson.
The blaze began about 8:50 p.m. and was brought under control just after 11 p.m.
Speakman said a sixth alarm was ordered when crews became concerned about a residential area about half a block from the blaze.
The houses were threatened briefly, but none were damaged, Speakman said.