Quick-moving fire destroys Phoenix strip mall

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

A Phoenix strip mall went up in flames Wednesday afternoon.

The fire started around 12:30 p.m. at a business center at 32nd Street and Oak. Smoke was seen pouring into the sky, and flames were shooting from the interior of the business.

"I saw more and more fire, and that's when I noticed all three of the buildings were on fire," said one witness.

The second-alarm fire apparently started in an outdoor shed then behind a smoke shop and quickly spread to the adjacent business.

The Phoenix Fire Department says investigators are looking into the possibility something may have spontaneously combusted there. 

"Like batteries, like oily rags you use clean. In this heat with an unventilated shed like that, fires very easily start," said Capt. Rob McDade with the Phoenix Fire Dept. 

Around 40 firefighters from both Phoenix and Tempe battled to douse the flames.

The fast-moving fire consumed the L-shaped commercial structure and then moved quickly through the attic.

Once they cleared the structure of anyone trapped, crews changed their tactics to a defensive mode, working to protect the surrounding homes and businesses.

Osman Lopez's girlfriend owned a yerberia in the building. He says they left for lunch, and when they came back, the whole complex was in flames.  

"It's not easy seeing her crying and wondering what's going to be," said Lopez. "Everything is gone." 

The commercial structure is now a total loss. 

The flames lept so high, they burned through power lines overhead. 

SRP had to turn off the electricity to about 90 homes to prevent an accident. This left neighbors, like Joseph Brown without air conditioning in 100 degree weather. 

"Unless you go pour some cold water on your head, that's the only way to stay cool," said Brown. 

It was also a hot one for firefighters. One had to be treated for heat exhaustion. He was transported to a nearby hospital for a precaution. He's doing much better tonight. 

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