Fire destroys bakery, salon

Khamla Phompanya pulled up to her packaging store in southeast Wichita on Monday morning and saw its front door standing wide open. "Did I forget to lock my business?" she asked herself.

A fire broke out early Monday morning around the corner of her building in the Cherry Creek shopping center at the southwest corner of Harry and Rock Road.

By the time firefighters were able to extinguish the flames shortly before 5 a.m., more than an hour after the call came out, a bakery and hair salon were gutted and more than a half-dozen other businesses in the strip mall had suffered smoke damage — Phompanya's among them.

Firefighters left the door to her store open so smoke could vent.

Phompanya and a staff member were painstakingly wiping soot from boxes and other items next to the open door Monday afternoon.

"See those boxes?" she asked, pointing to several filled with white faucets bearing a dingy film. "If I can't get them cleaned...

"That's $20,000 right there."

Fire investigators on Monday were still trying to determine what started the fire, which caused an estimated $1.3 million in damage to the building and the contents in the various businesses.

"We're going to have to leave it 'under investigation' until we gather up more information and follow up with what we have," Wichita fire Lt. Troy Thissen said.

Several of the businesses in the structure were closed Monday. A small Dollar General had a hand-written sign on its front door proclaiming "Closed Due to Smoke."

Moving trucks and restoration vans were pulled up next to the building as workers salvaged what they could from an insurance office. Around the corner near Phompanya's store, Peter Miller and a few employees were trying to stay upbeat.

Never mind that they operate Neighborhood Income Tax Service, and the filing deadline is Thursday.

"We're offering a patio tax service," Miller joked as his employees sat on furniture they'd pulled out to the sidewalk.

They have already found a temporary home on South Woodlawn and planned to be fully functional by this morning. Phompanya said her future is less clear.

"If the owner says 'I'll be willing to fix everything up,' I'll stay," she said.