AFD: Sushi restaurant fire was apparent arson
Anchorage firefighters say the blaze that raced through a Midtown sushi restaurant early Monday was an apparent act of arson.
AFD fire marshal Cleo Hill said the Yakitori Sushi House fire at 2834 Tudor Road appeared to have been set intentionally. Hill said AFD originally got the call at 4:20 a.m. and was on scene just four minutes later. By 5:06 a.m., the fire was under control.
"It does appear suspicious," Hill said. "Apparently there was a break-in not only at that location, but a couple of other locations in that same building."
Hill was uncertain whether the people who conducted the break-ins were responsible for setting the fire.
"At this point it’s a logical conclusion, but we’re at the very beginning stages of our investigation so I can’t really say that at this point," Hill said.
Those comments came after surveillance video pointed to possible criminal activity leading up to the fire at Yakitori, in a strip mall with two other businesses across from the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission on Tudor.
Photos posted to the restaurant's public Facebook page showed what appears to be two men. One appears to be wearing a mask, while the other man's face is partially exposed.
The post was removed after dozens of users had already shared it.
A surveillance video that has been viewed by a KTVA reporter, but not released to the public, shows the men on the property moving hurriedly as a fire has started and is making loud popping noises.
The fire caused the eastbound lanes of Tudor Road from Lake Otis to Wright to close from 4:30 a.m. to 6 a.m., according to multiple releases from the Anchorage Police Department.
Around 5 a.m., heavy smoke could still be seen coming from the sushi restaurant and signage on the front of the building appeared to be melting.
AFD's fire investigator was at the scene Monday afternoon.
Owners Dan Zhou and Choon Chit Shim, known as Jennifer and Jeff to longtime patrons, say they've been running the business there for six years, but only got a surveillance system within the last six months.
"Anchorage is just getting crazy in the last two years," Jennifer said, pointing to two burglaries at their business within that period of time, and now a third incident.
She said she believes the restaurant is a total loss and feels bad that their six employees are suddenly out of jobs. The business owners do have insurance.
Hill said a total of 13 units responded to the scene. There were no reports of injuries.
This fire marks the third notable fire in Anchorage at locations that are either abandoned or unattended within a month's time.
The first destroyed the recently shuttered Sea Galley restaurant, which officials said was burglarized twice in the months before it burned. AFD has suspended its investigation into the Jan. 3 fire, pending additional information.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 26, a hotel under construction in Midtown went up in flames, prompting an investigation by dozens of federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' national response team. ATF left over the weekend, according to Hill, but AFD has not yet released any of their findings.
Hill said Monday, however, that Anchorage saw seven commercial fires in January, a total consistent with previous years.
"At this point we have no evidence to link any of these fires together," Hill said.
Anyone with information on Monday's fire is asked to call AFD's arson hotline at 907-267-5060 or Anchorage police at 311.
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