Police investigating fire as arson

By David Irvin

An early-morning fire Saturday at Bender Chevrolet-Cadillac on Mabry Drive is being investigated as arson, police said.
Clovis police Detective Keith Farkas said there was evidence of a break-in at the dealership. He said somebody attempted to access a company safe and also stole a vehicle. Farkas thinks the same person or persons started the fire.
No arrests had been made late Saturday.
The fire caused an estimated $250,000 in damage, Farkas said, but company officials said the dealership will open as scheduled on Monday.
Most of the damage appeared to have occurred in the offices and the parts department, said Richard Kelley, Bender’s service director. He said the front show room sustained heat and smoke damage and five vehicles in the showroom were damaged and unsalvageable.
Detective Roman Romero said the suspect or suspects entered the building from the north side through a broken window on a large garage door.
Bender employees were alerted to the situation by phone about 6:30 a.m., Kelley said.
“We came down, but when the first (fire units) came on scene, all this area back here was just engulfed in flame,” Kelley said. “(It was) bellowing out the top. “
The Clovis Fire Department received a call about the fire shortly after 6 a.m.
Clovis Fire Department Battalion Chief Kevin Crouch said the fire appeared to start in the parts department.
Bender co-owner Darryle Bender said the dealership is already in the process of repairs and intends to stay open.
“ You can’t believe that it’s you,” he said. “We’re going to rebuild everything as soon as we can.”
By Saturday afternoon several contractors were on the scene, building walls in the undamaged showroom to serve as new offices starting Monday morning.
“We’ve just moved our offices, which is the most damaged,” Bender said. “The rest of the dealership is going to be operational, including the service, parts, and body shop.”
Couch said the fire was difficult to extinguish because of the large facility and the fact that the fire was contained in the middle of the building.