Ripon May 16, 2007 - After preliminary findings initially ruled out arson in the fire that destroyed a portion of the under-construction Canal Street Grill last week, investigators may be rescinding their theory.

According to Ripon Police Detective Sergeant Ed Ormonde, new evidence discovered by the team of fire investigators from the Ripon Consolidated Fire District and officials from the Police Department may not rule out the possibility that the fire - which destroyed the attic area of the structure - was started maliciously.

Initially reports indicated that something in the attic itself likely started the fire.

"We're kind of in a strange position because we can't say that it is arson but we can't rule it out," Ormonde said. "We're going to have to take a closer look at what we have."

Shortly after midnight on May 10, a sergeant on patrol noticed smoke coming from the structure which was poised to be Ripon's only steak house located near the intersection Jack Tone Road and Canal Boulevard where Wal-Mart was originally slated to construct a SuperCenter.

When officers arrived on scene and began to investigate the cause of the smoke, flames began to appear near the top of the structure - eventually extinguished by arriving crews from the Ripon Fire District.

Ormonde and fire investigators originally believed that the cause of the fire came from something left in the attic of the building possibly from construction crews that heated up. The ongoing investigation has yielded several clues that have opened up the door to additional possibilities.

The insurance company that represents the owners of the establishment - who have expressed their desire to rebuild to officials - is also involved in the investigation.

"We're looking into everything right now but we can't really rule anything out at this point," Ormonde said. "The investigation will be ongoing and we'll pursue the information that we have gathered so far."

While arson isn't exactly non-existent in Ripon, Ormonde says that he's never seen an instance where somebody has intentionally ignited a structure - limiting the occasions to somebody setting a dumpster or garbage can on fire or throwing a flaming rag towards something.

Anybody with any information that may shed more light on the matter is urged to call the Ripon Police Department at 599-2102.

(Story courtesy of the Manteca Bulletin)

Canal Street Grill fire in Ripon.  Photo by Joel Castro.
Ripon Restaurant Fire: Was it arson?
Jason Campbell
Photo by Ripon Fire District
Fire Marshal Joel Castro.
Ripon firefighters wrap things up Thursday at the Canal Street Grille after the eatery, under construction near Highway 99, was damaged by fire overnight. Co-owner Steve Bonner said he will rebuild.

(Courtesy of the Modesto Bee, photo by Ted Benson/The Bee)
Click for large photo
Canal Street Grill rebuilt after the fire.