WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Investigators are working to determine what caused the fire that significantly damaged R.I. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi’s law office in Warwick Tuesday night.
But because the damage to the building was so extensive, the R.I. State Fire Marshal’s office tells 12 News it may be awhile before they’re able to determine the cause.
Shekarchi’s law office is housed in a commercial building on College Hill Road, which is right off of Route 2. He said he’s been working out of that building for 30 years.
“It was shocking,” he said. “I was really shaken, to be quite honest with you.”
Shekarchi said he had just returned home from the State House when Mayor Frank Picozzi called and told him the building was on fire.
“I just thought immediately of my clients that I have open files and ongoing matters with,” he said. “How am I going to continue to represent them?”
Shekarchi rushed to his office and watched as firefighters worked to knock down the flames. He said his sister and brother, who are also attorneys, work out of the building as well.
But he said he wants everyone to remember he and his siblings aren’t the only ones dealing with this devastating loss.
“There are eight units in the building,” Shekarchi said. “It didn’t just affect me or my family – my brother and my sister – who share offices with me in the building. There were other attorneys and other small businesses who were also affected. So please do not forget them.”
“This isn’t just all about Joe Shekarchi, a lot of people were affected by this,” he continued.
While the building appears to have sustained minimal damage from the front entrance, it’s a completely different story when you take a look at the back.
The back of the building burned to the ground, taking the roof and nearly all of the walls inside with it. Warwick Fire Chief Peter McMichael said the building is a total loss.
No one was inside the building at the time. McMichael said one firefighter was transported to Kent Hospital for a minor injury to his lower back.
When asked whether he thought the fire was intentionally set, Shekarchi said he’s unsure.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I have no reason to believe it was, but I am not going to speculate.”
Shekarchi said he’s confident the R.I. Fire Marshal and State Police will “do whatever investigations they deem appropriate.”
“I’m going to let the professionals do their jobs,” he said.
As for his clients, Shekarchi said he is going to file motions asking for a stay for each of his cases.
“I will then try to reconstruct them as best I can,” he said. “I will try to practice law the best I can under these circumstances.”