Almost four months after a fire at Judd Black in Everett, police announced it was caused by arson. One lane of northbound Maple Street was still closed Wednesday at Hewitt Avenue. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)

Almost four months after a fire at Judd Black in Everett, police announced it was caused by arson. One lane of northbound Maple Street was still closed Wednesday at Hewitt Avenue. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)

Arson was the cause of Judd & Black fire; police seek tips

Nearly four months later, investigators have announced the official cause of the $3.5 million blaze.

EVERETT — Arson is the official cause of a three-alarm fire in September that destroyed the flagship Judd & Black store, police said Wednesday.

Almost four months after the incident, Everett detectives have not identified or arrested a suspect. Tips can be directed to police at 425-257-8450.

The fire at 3001 Hewitt Ave. destroyed one of the oldest structures in Everett. Its main piece, the Bast Building, opened in 1892, a year before the city was founded. It housed a dentist’s office in the 1890s; later, it was home to a saloon, a motorcycle shop, a hardware store and hotels.

The appliance retailer moved to the space in 1962.

On the night of Sept. 21, 2018, the two-story building was full of washing machines, ovens and the modern conveniences that for generations have been the backbone of Judd & Black, a family business.

At first it was reported that the flames spread from a garbage bin. But the bins behind the building were empty, according to fire crews.

A glowing orange plume lit up downtown.

The next morning in September, Everett Fire Chief Dave DeMarco said it was considered “very suspicious.” Investigators declined to release details about a suspected cause. A damage estimate pegged the loss at $1.5 million for the building and $2 million for inventory.

Police didn’t say what led them to conclude an arsonist sparked the fire — only that it appeared to have started outside the building on a Friday night. Officer Aaron Snell on Wednesday declined to discuss what evidence police may have.

The Judd & Black appliance store burns on Sept. 21, 2018, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

The Judd & Black appliance store burns on Sept. 21, 2018, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Charred washing machines sat exposed to the open air into the winter, in view of cars passing feet away on I-5. Metal siding sloughed off in intense heat, exposing brick facades of two antique buildings. Over decades, those two structures were conjoined, reinforced and given so many facelifts that they were unrecognizable.

“It is believed that the building has been altered beyond reasonable hope of redemption,” historians David Dilgard and Margaret Riddle wrote in 1989.

Police and fire investigators have been working together on the case.

Aside from shoring up the fire-weakened brick wall facing Maple Street, it appeared little progress was made on the cleanup as of Wednesday, at least from a distance. A chain link fence wrapped around the property, stretching about a block beneath an underpass. A striped yellow-and-blue awning over the front doors — “judd & black / Your Hometown Appliance Store!” — was still collapsed in the southeast corner. Dusty, damaged barbecue grills were still on display in the storefront windows.

Part of the east face of the wall was missing, in the shape of a giant bite mark. Bricks tore loose in the firefighting. Black burn scars swept west across the outer walls. Both northbound lanes of Maple remained closed alongside the building for months, because of concerns over structural integrity. One lane opened just this week.

Judd & Black has roots in Everett dating to 1940. Other branches have sprouted up around the Puget Sound region, from Lynnwood to Bellingham.

In the fire’s aftermath, company President Bob Long III pledged local employees would keep their jobs. As of Wednesday, a posting on the Judd & Black website notes the Everett location is “temporarily closed.”

The company has advertised an intent to rebuild in the city. However, no specific plans have been made public.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; Twitter: @snocaleb.

This story was changed to reflect the correct date of the fire.

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