RALEIGH — Four people, who police and firefighters said were living in rooms at a commercial car wash on Wake Forest Road, were displaced early Monday by a fire that investigators said was deliberately set.
One of the four people, whose identities were not disclosed, was taken to WakeMed in Raleigh for treatment of smoke inhalation, according to the fire department.
The rooms were in one of two buildings at the Gentle Touch Handscrub Carwash, at 2907 Wake Forest Road, near Six Forks Road. The fire, which was reported just before 4 a.m., damaged about 20 percent of the one-story brick structure at the rear of the property, fire officials said.
A man in the office at Gentle Touch on Monday who refused to give his name insisted that the people firefighters found must have been vagrants because no one lived in the building.
But police spokesman Jim Sughrue said officers who answered the call said in their reports that, “People were residing there.” A fire investigator said it was “our understanding that they were allowing people to live there.”
It took firefighters about 15 minutes to bring the fire under control. The fire department listed the cause as “arson, small fire set in corner of one of the rooms.”
If the fire had been started for people to cook or stay warm, it would be labeled “accidental,” not “arson,” investigators said.
Fire officials said it was “early in the investigation” Monday and that police were following leads.
“An arson investigation is under way,” Sughrue said.
The man at Gentle Touch said the business planned to close next week because the land is being redeveloped. He referred all questions to the Sudz Car Wash at 413 W. Peace St. and a supervisor named Russ Buchanan, who was not at Sudz and could not be reached by phone.
Sudz, operated by a company called Suds Car Wash and Detail LLC that was organized by Frederick L. Gardner, is a hand-wash facility, too, and its website says it is closing in favor of a mobile service that will go to customers’ locations for hand-washing.
A company that has a similar name, Suds Carwash Inc., and also is listed at 413 W. Peace St., was suspended by the Secretary of State’s office in July 2011 because of “failure to comply with the requirements of the Department of Revenue.”
A letter to that company’s agent, Fred Gardner, cites a section of law that refers to a corporation’s failing “to file any report or return or pay any tax or fee required.”
City of Raleigh records show that Carolina Auto Spa Inc., represented by Atlanta-based contractor The Arbor Companies, has filed plans for the Gentle Touch site.
Karl Murphy, president of Carolina Auto Spa, said he could not confirm whether Gentle Touch planned to close next week, but said his business hopes to be operating on the site “by the fall.”
Murphy’s current Carolina Auto Spa is on Northwest Maynard Road in Cary.