Topeka Fire now says White Lakes Mall fire was purposely set

One adult and two juveniles were arrested in connection to the fire.
Joel Sink, 18, was arrested in connection to the White Lakes Mall fire Tuesday morning.
Joel Sink, 18, was arrested in connection to the White Lakes Mall fire Tuesday morning.(Shawnee Co. Dept. of Corrections)
Published: Dec. 31, 2020 at 8:21 AM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka Fire investigators now say the fire at the White Lakes Mall was set on purpose.

Three people have been arrested for arson, criminal damage to property and criminal trespass, following tips to CrimeStoppers.

18-year-old Joel Sink was booked into Shawnee County Department of Corrections along with two juveniles.

A two-alarm fire ravaged the White Lakes Mall building on a frigid Tuesday morning in south Topeka.

According to Fire Investigators, the fire caused about $100,000 in damage.

Flames and heavy smoke were pouring out of the roof of the mostly empty building as crews arrived on the scene around 6:40 a.m. Tuesday.

Topeka Fire Department officials said crews made a “defensive attack,” battling the blaze only from the outside.

The building wasn’t considered safe enough to send firefighters inside and risk the roof collapsing on them, Topeka Fire Marshal Todd Harrison said at the scene.

“Due to the nature of where the fire started and the age of the building,” Harrison said, “we are not allowing our firefighters to get inside.”

To help bring the blaze under control, an aerial apparatus unit was called to the scene to spray water down into the center portion of the structure.

That truck was parked along the center portion on the west side of the mall.

Additional firefighters battled the blaze from the east side of the building.

Heavy smoke, aided by a steady easterly breeze of about 15 mph, was carried northwest from the mall.

In 2019, WIBW reported that “squatters” were known to be inside the building. “Squatters” are homeless individuals who stay in vacant structures

A cause of the fire also hadn’t been determined at the time of the fire, as investigators also hadn’t been cleared to go inside the building.

Harrison said the fire appeared to have done the most damage near the northern part of the mall.

However, Harrison added, Mainline Printing, located in the old Sears building at the north end of the mall, hadn’t been damaged as of Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re doing everything we can to protect Mainline Printing,” Harrison said. “It is safe at this time.”

Mainline Printing, Harrison said, was the only business left in the once-thriving mall, which boasted a number of businesses in its heyday in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, including JC Penney, Walgreens, Woolworths, Falley’s market and a number of clothing stores and shops.

The mall opened in the mid-1960s and was a hub of activity for about 30 years, when West Ridge Mall opened in 1988 at 1801 S.W. Wanamaker Road.

Since then, nearly all of the stores and businesses that once occupied space at White Lakes Mall have left.

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