Rooftop fire sends thick smoke over Butler Plaza


A fire at Best Buy in Butler Plaza forced evacuation of Best Buy, PetSmart and Trader Joe's.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, November 4, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 4, 2013 at 10:19 p.m.

Gainesville and Alachua County firefighters quickly put out a blaze Monday afternoon that started among the solar panels on a roof shared by Best Buy, PetSmart and other stores in Butler Plaza on Archer Road.

No one was injured in the fire, Gainesville Fire Rescue District Chief Pat Lewis said.

Lewis said emergency responders were called at 2:03 p.m. by passers-by who saw black smoke and flames over Best Buy. Three minutes later, 28 firefighters from Gainesville Fire Rescue and Alachua County Fire Rescue responded to the scene.

Firefighters used ladders to gain access to the roof, Lewis said. One engine company got to the roof using an interior ladder inside of Best Buy.

Lewis explained that the businesses share a common roof with the individual stores distinguished by firewalls that protrude through the ceiling. The fire was directly behind PetSmart and over a storage building owned by Butler Enterprises, he said.

The entire roof is covered with solar panels, Lewis said, and firefighters found about 60 to 65 panels, covering about 2,000 square feet, on fire. The fire produced a large amount of flame and black smoke.

About 100 customers and employees evacuated Best Buy and neighboring stores PetSmart and Trader Joe’s. The animals at PetSmart also were evacuated.

Firefighters put the blaze out at 2:19 p.m. using fire suppressant material to avoid electrocution from the solar panels. Officials do not know the cause of the fire and are still investigating, Lewis said.

There was no damage to Best Buy underneath, but the fire did cause $75,000 worth of damage to the solar panels and roof itself, he said. Best Buy sales manager Brenda Banales said at the time of the fire that the store would not comment.

Jessica Domash, a customer at Best Buy, was paying for her items when the fire alarm went off at 2 p.m, she said. The clerk told her it probably was someone stealing, but when the alarm went off two more times, everyone was evacuated from the store, she said.

Customers were allowed back into the stores around 3:07 p.m.

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