Fire at Dover Target determined to be arson

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DOVER — The Sunday fire at Target has been determined to be an arson, city officials said Monday afternoon.

No injuries were reported, said a news release from the Dover Police Department, the Dover Fire Department, the city Fire Marshal's Office and the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.

According to a preliminary investigation, approximately $3 million-$4 million worth of merchandise was damaged due to fire and smoke. The estimated damage to the building was not yet available.

The blaze was ignited in the linens section, near the center of the store, authorities said. 

At around 2 p.m. Monday, Target's corporate office released a statement that read:

"Yesterday evening our Dover, Delaware store was evacuated due to a fire on the sales floor. We're grateful that no one was injured.

"The store will be closed for the next several weeks during repairs and restocking, and guests are welcome to visit our Christiana location for all of their needs.

"As the cause of the fire is under investigation, we'll refer questions to the Dover Police Department at this time."

The store, which opened in March 2001, has  about 150 employees. Target spokesman Brian Harper-Tibaldo said some would be offered opportunities to work at two New Castle County locations.

He added that other workers would be able to return as the restocking process begins; employees are not expected to be out of work for an extended period of time, he said.   

Police were reviewing surveillance video, said the department's spokesman, Sgt. Mark Hoffman. The process was slowed when power to the Target was cut Sunday during firefighting efforts.

The city's Deputy Fire Marshal Sean Christiansen said firefighters were called to the scene at 148 John Hunn Brown Road just after 9 p.m. Sunday.

With the blaze under control, first responders were able to leave the scene by 12:30 a.m. Monday.

Later, Target employees and cleanup crews were seen outside the store and entering it. As a safety measure, they moved shopping carts to block vehicles from coming into the parking lot.

Debris from inside the store was piled next to a front exterior wall.  

Also present were personnel from the Paul Davis restoration company.

One would-be patron who arrived in his vehicle was told to leave the area for safety reasons and did. Another drove by and asked if the store was open before being told of the fire and leaving.   

The blaze was reported less than an hour before Target's closing time, and customers were evacuated. Water sprinklers also engaged during the fire, police said. 

Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen said Monday he met with Target’s store and district managers “to assure them that the city would provide all support and resources possible to get them back in business.”

He added, “They assured me that they will be back in business as quickly as possible.

“Of my initial concerns was that they may choose to not come back, but they assured me that they are going to come back in a month or as soon as possible.”

As to the arson determination, Mayor Christiansen said, “I think it's really pretty sad that we would have someone ... who would maliciously set a fire in a store and put customers and employees in jeopardy.

“I cannot fathom how anybody could do that. Whether it was on a dare or a bet or whatever. It certainly is unconscionable.”

The mayor lauded Target for being a “tremendous” contributor to the community, especially with first-responder events, such as holiday shopping sprees for children and space for National Night Out events.

“It really bothers me to no end that Target or any of our businesses in our community would be subject to this criminal activity,” he said.

In addition to the Dover Fire Department, firefighters from Little Creek, Cheswold, South Bowers, Leipsic, Dover Air Force Base, Hartly and Camden-Wyoming also responded.

St. Francis Emergency Medical Services and Kent County paramedics also came to the scene.

Citizens' Hose Co. of Smyrna covered for the Dover agency during the incident, along with the Bowers and Hartly fire companies.  

Dover's Target store was chosen to be one of the retail chain's 300 locations to undergo a full renovation in September 2018. Six years prior, a 10,000-square-foot grocery section was added.

Police asked anyone with information about the incident to call 302-736-7130.  Callers may remain anonymous.  Tips may also be submitted via Delaware Crime Stoppers at 800-TIP-3333 or here; a cash reward is possible for details leading to an arrest.

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