VISALIA, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Three businesses in downtown Visalia are recovering from a massive fire that ripped through their walls on Sunday evening.
“You really don’t go home and go to sleep because you’re trying to figure out what the next step is,” said Steve Nelsen, the mayor of Visalia and CEO of Downtown Visalians.
Officials say the fire started in a dumpster behind Alejandra’s restaurant, quickly spreading to the establishment and the two neighboring businesses; Jimmy John’s and Decor to Adore.
On Monday, officials identified 56-year-old Jessie Hager as the person who started the fire. He was booked into the Tulare County jail on two counts of arson of an inhabited dwelling, one count of arson of a structure, and one count of arson of property.
The employees of these businesses are now without jobs.
“Alejandra’s has some employees that have been there I would say over 25, 30 years. In some cases, they might be the breadwinner for their family, and now their source of revenue is depleted,” Nelsen said.
Nelsen says the owners of the decor shop had a business in a different location that burned to the ground less than a year ago and now, they won’t be re-opening their store downtown.
“They decided they won’t go through it again,” he said.
Miraculously, the iconic Fox Theater – just feet away from the Jimmy Johns – did not catch fire on Sunday night. Executive director of the theater Wilhelmina Santana says she was absolutely shocked and is now looking to help the businesses affected.
“We’re here for our friends at Jimmy John’s, we’re here for our friends at Alejandra’s…whatever they need from us, we are here,” she said.
Mayor Nelsen said he is working on finding ways to organize fundraisers and help owners navigate their recovery. He also wants to see if they can move dumpsters farther from the businesses and add more surveillance cameras.