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Fire Damages 5 Ventura Businesses

Blaze: Officials have not ruled out arson as the cause. Three firefighters suffer minor injuries. One of them remains hospitalized.


Authorities are trying to determine if arson was the cause of a blaze that swept through five businesses in midtown Ventura early Friday, gutting at least two of them and leaving four people with minor injuries.

Firefighters responding to the 2:45 a.m. blaze in the 2500 block of Main Street found flames had already consumed Slingers tattoo shop and the Body Arts Massage School and Store next door.

"It was a very severe fire," Ventura Fire Department Battalion Chief Neil Gedney said. "Two businesses were fully involved and we could see smoke coming through the attached businesses."

Firefighters tried to contain the blaze, but it raced across nearby businesses that share an attic.

Firefighters were startled when an explosion blew out the front window of the Skin Care Studio, sending shards of glass across Main Street.

The explosion was probably caused when heat and fumes from the fire reached beauty product chemicals in the studio, Gedney said.

A firefighter's ear was hurt in the blast.

Two other firefighters complained of chest pains; paramedics treated them as cardiac victims, Gedney said.

"That was frightening," said Gedney, noting that both firefighters were veterans. "It's very unusual to have firefighters complaining of chest pain. But the heat and the stress of the situation can bring something like that on."

All of the injured men were sent to Ventura County Medical Center. Two of the firefighters were treated and released and the other remained hospitalized Friday evening in good condition.

The owner of the Heart to Heart bridal shop was also taken to the county hospital after she cut her hand on a piece of glass.

After the fire, firefighters were escorting the owner past soot-stained bridal gowns to retrieve papers when she slipped on a water-slicked floor and fell, injuring her hand.

Standing outside the ash-riddled Skin Care Studio offices, owner Wendy Green burst into tears.

A friend put his arms around her.

"This is just awful," said Green, who opened her shop two years ago . "I'm just in total shock. I was just getting over the hump. It takes two years to build a business and I was just getting there."

Green said she plans to reopen when she gets insurance money, but worries about what she will do in the meantime.

"I have no equipment, I have nothing," she said. "I can't do anything to work." Then, breaking into a smile for a moment, Green noted the irony of her shop burning on Friday the 13th.

"I always thought that stuff was a lot of rubbish. I guess I was wrong," she said.

Investigators with the city fire and police departments are trying to determine the cause of the blaze and arson has not been ruled out, Gedney said.

A witness told investigators he saw a car speeding away from Slingers tattoo shop shortly before the blaze began. The tattoo shop opened Oct. 1.

Nearly 50 firefighters from the Ventura, Oxnard and Ventura County fire departments worked to stamp out the blaze.

Authorities estimate the fire, which also scorched the Dollar Driving School, caused about $750,000 in damages.

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