Palo Alto Police Sgt. Sandra Brown confirmed Wednesday the department has video evidence related to the devastating Walgreens fire, but emphasized that does not mean the arson case is easily solvable.
"We have all kinds of video," Brown said. "Everybody's making the assumption the videotape shows something. It just shows whatever the camera is looking at."
But video can be low-resolution, too dark or capturing shots of the wrong place or time, she said.
It isn't as easy as shown on TV, when investigators can just zoom-in, she said. It also takes time to analyze.
Nonetheless, Brown is asking for more videotape.
"We're asking people at the scene, perhaps videotaping with their phone, that if they have that to come forward," Brown said. "That in itself could be evidence. It might show something we might be interested in seeing."
The department has a special tip line for the fire, which raged and smoked for most of the night July 1-2, causing an estimated $8 million in dollars of damage and closing a block of University Avenue to traffic and business for days. Anyone with information is encouraged to phone 650-329-2190, Brown said.
The fire began around 9:30 p.m. Sunday night in the two-story structure at 300 and 310 University Ave. that housed Walgreens and Subway.
It was deemed a definite arson July 9 following a week-long investigation that brought in a federal arson investigation team.
The police have no suspects, Brown said.
Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms spokesman Tom Lyster is staying mum about the details of this phase of the investigation.
"You take the leads you have and forensic evidence and just do some good (detective) work," Lyster said.
Lyster said the ATF does not yet have a profile of the perpetrator.
"It could be basically anybody," Lyster said.
Interviews are the key to solving an arson case, according to Brown.
With the on-site portion of investigation complete, building manager Jim Baer said the city has issued a tentative demolition order and "red-tagged" the building, meaning that no one is allowed inside.
Crews were boarding up windows and demolition contractors stopped by to gauge the potential job, Baer said.
"Our early sense is the building will probably not be able to be salvaged," he said.
Owners Milpitas and Dixon LLP -- which is local and family-owned, Baer said -- have not yet had a chance to have the building structurally inspected, he said.
One owner, Lu Lu Teng of Los Altos Hills, was not available for comment but earlier told the Weekly the fire is devastating to the owners.
The group owns other buildings in Northern California, Baer said.
Demolition could start within three weeks and would take about 10 days, he said.
Baer said the ATF investigators interviewed everyone involved with the building, including contractors who have worked on it.
"They did a very thorough job."
The building is currently stabilized, work that was completed using insurance money.
Four people are working the case now, including a representative from the Dublin office of the ATF and possibly one member of the Santa Clara County Arson Task Force, according to Brown.
Walgreens was only able to salvage its hard drives -- the rest of its merchandise was destroyed, spokeswoman Carol Hively said.
All of the store's employees have been transferred to nearby stores, she said.
She said Walgreens is committed to having another store downtown, but that could be months away. Hively said she couldn't think of any other Walgreens stores damaged by arson.
Arson investigations are rare, Marinaro and Brown agreed, although Brown said they had a case in February when a man committed suicide by setting himself on fire.
Marinaro said large fires only occur about every 10 to 15 years in Palo Alto, although he can't think of a similar fire that was intentionally set.
ATF was asked to assist following a decision by the police and fire departments and the county, Marinaro said.
Marinaro said working with ATF was very helpful due to its agents' specialized skills and extensive resources, including the ability to process genetic material.
He said the fire taught the department about the complexity of the aftermath of a large fire.
Nearly every city department, as well as property owners, tenants, investigators and others were involved, Marinaro said.
"Both police, fire and our folks put in an inordinate amount of hours," Marinaro said. "A lot of people worked real hard."