A vandal with matches or a cigarette lighter appears to have been the culprit in two fires Monday night at the Mall in Columbia, where about $200,000 in property was damaged by smoke and water, fire officials reported.
The fires, believed to be acts of vandalism, were setwithin minutes of each other in the drapery sections of Hecht's and Woodward & Lothrop department stores, said state Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Robert B. Thomas Jr.
It is unknown whether one person set both fires or whether two ormore people were involved, Thomas said.
"What's amazing is that both were almost simultaneous, and these stores were on opposite sidesof the mall," Thomas said. The first fire, at Woodward & Lothrop, was reported at 4:24 p.m., and the Hecht's fire was reported at 4:34 p.m., county fire records said.
Thomas said no suspects have been identified. The fires apparently began when someone set linen or draperies alight with a match or lighter.
Sprinkler systems extinguishedboth second-floor blazes before firefighters arrived, and no injuries were reported.
Water from the sprinklers soaked many items in the stores, and they will probably be declared losses, said Donald R. Howell, a county Fire Department spokesman.
"Fire damage was minimal, since the sprinkler kicked in almost immediately," Howell said. "But water on many of those items will likely mean that the store can'tsell them anymore. That's where the high damage total comes from."
Officials at both Hecht's and Woodward & Lothrop said exact damage figures have not been compiled.
Both stores were open for businesstoday, and damage in the drapery departments appeared minimal. A worker at Woodward & Lothrop said a crew worked several hours to clean up soot and water damage.
The fire marshal's office is asking anyone with information about either blaze to call (800) 492-7529.