Questions linger, progress continues year after outlet building inferno in Reading

Questions linger, progress continues year after inferno

READING, Pa. - This weekend marks one year since one of the largest fires in Reading's history.

Part of a former outlet building in the northeast section of the city, which was undergoing renovations, was destroyed by fast-moving flames.

Over the past few months, the investigation has stalled. Tips came in early on after the fire, but no new tips have been reported recently, officials with the ATF said Friday.

Construction at the Big Mill Building, which sits at North Eighth and Oley streets, is moving forward. The electricity was turned on Thursday, and construction crews are rebuilding staircases, arches, cross beams and floors inside the building.

"We're pretty much about the same place as we were last year," said developer Alan Shuman. "In a few areas, we're a little behind and in a few areas, a little ahead."

The quick-moving flames tore through the roof and gutted part of the building on Oct. 18, 2014, causing more than $10 million in damage. The former building 10 at Reading's Outlet Center was being converted into apartments and commercial space.

"I was just worried about the building collapsing. That's the only thing that worried me was somebody getting hurt," said Betty Johnston, who can remember watching the fire from her home.

"It was a long night that night, but it's coming along pretty good I guess over there," said John Richuitti, who lives on North Eighth Street, across from the building.

Windows were being put in Friday. Shuman said he hopes to have the occupancy permit by Thanksgiving, which would allow people to move in soon after.

A farmer's market, restaurant and medical group will take over the bottom floors.

The ATF ruled the fire arson. ATF officials said the fire remains an active investigation. The ATF is working with the Reading Police Department and the Reading fire marshal's office, and investigators continue to conduct interviews and follow up on leads.

Ever since the fire, Shuman has stepped up security.

"We have a chain link fence around the entire perimeter of the building. We have 24/7 security here, and we have cameras throughout the building. They're monitored off site," Shuman said.

Even though no new tips have come in, Shuman said he believes the case will be solved.

"I'm optimistic and my insurance company is very hopeful. They would like to nail somebody with deep pockets for the $10 million they are out on this," Shuman said.

A hefty reward of up to $110,000 is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Officials are renewing their plea for tips, and hope the reward entices people to come forward.

The number to call with a tip is 1-888-ATF-FIRE.

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