Belle View Shopping Center fire traced to cooler, but exact cause unknown

Chairs and tables with pieces of ceiling on them, various debris in the narrow dining area of restaurant
The interior of Yido Ramen and Sushi is seen hours after the Belle View Shopping Center fire on October 21. (Fairfax County Fire Marshal’s Office image)

An investigation by the Fairfax County Fire Marshal’s office determined that the $5.8 million fire at the Belle View Shopping Center last October began in a walk-in cooler at Yido Ramen and Sushi.

However a definitive cause of the fire remains unknown, according to a copy of the investigation obtained by Covering The Corridor through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The investigative report, completed in early March, says the fire originated in one of two walk-in coolers inside of Yido’s kitchen. The report rules out arson or an “act of god” event (such as lightning) for causing the fire, classifying the blaze as accidental.

“Based on the totality of the information available at the time of this report … the fire started due to an unspecified electrical or mechanical malfunction in the area of the walk-in cooler,” the report states.

The Yido kitchen area and its coolers suffered major fire damage, making it “apparent” that the fire started there.

“[The cooler] had the right side consumed by fire and melted to the floor exposing the inner contents,” the report said. “The roof of this same cooler had been partially consumed by fire and collapsed into the interior of the cooler.”

Interior of kitchen with damaged metal hanging and destroyed cooler in center
A damaged cooler in Yido’s kitchen, center. (Image courtesy of Fairfax County Fire Marshal’s Office)

The fire marshal’s office said the exact cause of the electrical or mechanical malfunction in the cooler remains unknown.

“Further cause determination is beyond the capabilities of this office and may be able to be determined by an electrical or mechanical engineer evaluation of the HVAC as well as the surrounding electrical systems of the cooler,” the report said.

Traveler’s Insurance, the insurance company for the owners of the Belle View Shopping Center, also opened an investigation into the fire. It is unclear if that investigation is ongoing or completed; a spokesman for the company said earlier this week they had no comment beyond what was in the report.

Large scale destruction

badly damaged space with burn marks visible
The kitchen area of Yido Ramen and Sushi. (Fairfax County Fire Marshal’s Office image)

The fire was called in shortly before midnight on October 20, and took more than three hours to be declared “stable.” The blaze damaged more than a dozen businesses at the popular shopping center, and the destruction in certain areas was so severe that six businesses are still closed. No injuries related to the fire were reported.

Once the fire began in Yido’s kitchen, it expanded vertically and began to melt the tar underlayment of the shopping center’s roof, according to the report. The burning tar “further fueled the fire,” which became powerful enough to warp the metal components of the roof.

Fire investigators say that approximately 181,740 square feet of the shopping center — roughly half the building — was affected by the fire. As of this article, major repair work to the roof of the shopping center wing where the fire began continues.

While the majority of businesses did not suffer fire damage, many sustained smoke damage due to a shared attic space with the source of the fire. The fire department also broke through many doors in the shopping center to check where the fire had spread to.

Up until now, Fairfax Fire and Rescue had not publicly named Yido Ramen and Sushi as the business where the fire began, instead saying only that it began in the kitchen area of one of the business there. Yido suffered the most extensive damage, followed by the Belleview Dry Cleaners next door. Both businesses remain closed, shielded by a plywood entrance erected by the investigators.

Roy Rogers also suffered significant damage, and no reopening for that restaurant has been announced. Spokes Etc., Wine & Design and GOLFTEC also remain closed.

Yido Ramen & Sushi had opened less than two weeks prior to the fire. Attempts to locate the owners for this story were unsuccessful.

Notes provided by the fire marshal’s office indicate that the investigation into the blaze was hampered by the scale of the destruction to the Yido space. Because of unsafe conditions, the entire roof eventually needed to be removed, which effectively ended the investigation.

“After several months of attempting to “safe” the structure by [Traveler’s Insurance], no safe work area was established per structural engineers,” the notes state. “The final resolution is an attempt to remove the roof structure … . [I]t is anticipated that this act will result in the inability to further examine the area of origin due to the destruction.”