The head of Dallas-based C & C Wholesale said arson is the suspected cause of a blaze that gutted the Houston branch of his 11-location distributorship in the late hours of Feb. 12.

Company CEO Blake Christian said a break-in at the Houston branch was registered approximately one half hour before a four-alarm fire broke out at the 12,000-square-foot facility. Investigators found metal security gates sawn open on the scene. That, and the manner in which the fire progressed through the building, indicated possible arson. "That's what it looks like, anyway," Christian said.

The building, which Christian described as "totaled," contained approximately $650,000 to $700,000 in floor covering inventory, all of which was consumed by flames. Christian added that he was unsure whether the company's existing insurance coverage was sufficient to cover the loss. C & C, which leased the facility, had moved into the location only last October.

No company employees were hurt in the fire, which broke out at approximately 11 pm., well after business hours. Christian said the company plans to reoccupy the damaged structure once it is rebuilt, a process he estimated would take a year to 18 months to complete.

"The worst is over," he said. "Our customers are responding -- we've taken lots and lots of orders since the fire."

In the wake of the blaze, C & C set up operations in available space adjacent to the gutted building. Suppliers worked over the weekend following the incident to expedite product shipments to the company. "They've all been very cooperative," Christian said. C & C employees managed to get the Houston operation back up and running on the morning of Feb. 16, he added.

Christian also said that the Houston branch soon will move from its temporary quarters to a facility in the same warehouse development that is nearly identical to the building that burned. He said the operation will likely remain there until the burned structure is fully rebuilt.