A 31-year-old man was arrested for first-degree arson after a fire destroyed a vacant former restaurant building on Harrison Avenue in Centralia Sunday morning.
Lewis County 911 Communications dispatched fire personnel to the former location of Papa Pete’s Pizza and Shari’s Cafe at 933 Harrison Ave. just after 7 a.m. on Sunday, March 5. The Centralia Police Department was dispatched a few minutes later.
While no one was inside the building when firefighters arrived Sunday morning, the structure has been frequently broken into and used by people experiencing homelessness, according to the Centralia Police Department.
“People were going in and out of it,” Centralia Detective Sergeant David Clary told a Chronicle reporter on Monday.
One of those people was Christopher J. Jackson, who officers ultimately arrested Sunday as an arson suspect.
In a news release issued Monday, the Centralia Police Department identified Jackson as a “transient who has recently been in the Lewis County area.” The department initially reported Jackson as a Chehalis resident.
When officers with the Centralia Police Department started talking with people in the vicinity of the fire Sunday morning, Jackson allegedly “made certain admissions as to his involvement in the fire,” Clary said.
Those “admissions” were consistent with the information Centralia officers had on the cause of the fire, according to Clary.
The details about the cause of the fire were not publicly available Monday morning.
Jackson was booked into the Lewis County Jail for first-degree arson at 10:20 a.m. on Sunday, according to jail records. His preliminary hearing in Lewis County Superior Court is scheduled for Monday afternoon.
First-degree arson is a class A felony with a maximum penalty of life in prison. Under Washington state law, the charge requires evidence that the defendant knowingly and maliciously started a fire that endangered any human life, including that of a firefighter.
“When someone starts a fire and the firefighters have to put it out, it’s a dangerous situation for them,” Clary said.
No injuries resulting from Sunday’s blaze were reported.
Riverside Fire Authority and multiple mutual aid crews from nearby agencies, including Lewis County Fire District 6 and the West Thurston Fire Authority, successfully extinguished the fire on Sunday and prevented it from spreading to nearby structures.
The Centralia Emergency Operation Center was opened to assist emergency response personnel with resources management, according to the Centralia Police Department.
The building itself was a total loss. The structure was severely unstable and at risk for collapse when firefighters extinguished the bulk of the fire, prompting Tyler Rentals out of Chehalis and staff from Centralia Public Works to use an excavator to knock down the remaining structure.
The hexagon-shaped building was first opened in January 1983 as the 26th restaurant in the Shari’s chain, according to previous Chronicle reporting. The Shari’s closed in 2007, but the building remained.
Three years later, in June 2010, the Castle Rock-based chain Papa Pete’s Pizza announced it would open a new location in the former Shari’s on Harrison Avenue.
At 4,300 square feet, the Centralia location was Papa Pete’s smallest eatery, according to previous Chronicle reporting.
The pizza chain operated on Harrison Avenue through February 2022 before permanently closing its Centralia location.
Papa Pete’s maintains locations in Castle Rock, Longview and Ridgefield.
The Centralia Police Department was still investigating the fire as of Monday.
The department encourages anyone with information about the incident to call Centralia police at 360-330-7680 or Lewis County Communications at 360-740-1105.