Bruce Gillett, right, on June 19, 2023, talks about the previous day’s fire that destroyed the Majestic Windows and Doors business he and his wife, Sharon, operated on Third Street in Riverside. Fire investigators believe a woman started the fire on purpose. (Brian Rokos, Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
A Riverside couple is dealing with the loss of a business they built over the past 20 years after the Riverside Fire Department said a woman set fire to the building Sunday, June 18, for unknown reasons.
Firefighters responded to Majestic Windows & Doors at 1781 Third St. around 11 a.m. to find smoke coming from the roof and all sides of the concrete building, said Capt. Ray Mendoza, the city’s lead arson investigator. 28 firefighters had the blaze under control by 11:24 a.m. The business was a total loss, Mendoza said.
A witness pointed to a woman she saw in the area. After an investigation, fire officials arrested the 37-year-old man on suspicion of arson and using a flammable liquid to start a fire, both felonies, Riverside County Jail records show. She was being held Monday in lieu of $35,000 bail.
The woman was previously unknown to investigators, Mendoza said.
“We are devastated,” said Bruce Gillett, 61, who runs the business with his wife, Sharon. Contract workers occasionally help.
Gillette said he is checking with his insurance company to confirm coverage. Someone else owns the building, he said.
“We are in dire straits. Holy Molly. I’m just trying to hold it together for her,” Gillette said. “Twenty years and we’re out of business.”
Gillette said a security guard told him he saw the woman “doing crazy things” like urinating in front of the business before the fire broke out.
Gillette, citing fire officials, said the woman soaked the fabric in hand sanitizer, placed it on the end of a copper pole, and ignited the fabric. She then used the rocks and pole to break the windows and throw the burning rags inside the building. She tried to start the fire through four different windows, Gillette said.
Fire investigators used security camera footage from a gas station down the street to identify the woman as the suspect, Gillette said.
Mendoza could not solve the exact method used to start the fire to protect the accuracy of the investigation.
Burnt cloth and stone can be seen through one of the broken windows.
It was not known Monday if the woman was one of those people, but the owner provides water and chocolate to the homeless and lets them use the bathrooms, Gillette said.
“I’m very disappointed to have come to this,” Gillette said.