A warehouse in south Kenner full of Carnival floats and props caught fire early Tuesday. Although the blaze caused no major damage, the building’s owner said he suspected arson.
No one was injured.
The warehouse, near the corner of Toledano and Oxley streets, belongs to the McKinley Cantrell company, which produces floats for the Krewe of Iris in New Orleans and Metairie’s Little Rascals, among other parading organizations.
Iris captain Kristin Danflous said none of her krewe’s floats were being housed in the warehouse that caught fire. “Our floats remain unharmed in another den,” she said.
Fire officials said the three-alarm blaze is being treated as suspicious. Kenner Fire Chief John Hellmers said the fire started on a float that was parked outside the building and then spread inside, indicating someone may have set it intentionally.
“A float ... wouldn’t have anything in there to indicate it could burn by itself,” Hellmers said.
Deputy Chief Brant Thompson, of the state Fire Marshal’s Office, said his agency and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating.
The fire was reported about 5:45 a.m., and Kenner firefighters brought it under control after nearly two hours, Hellmers said. Damage was limited to the front of a building that was housing at least eight floats and related equipment, including tractors, generators and spare tires.
Officials said firefighters initially had trouble getting inside the warehouse because a live power line had fallen near the building and onto the float where the fire began.
They had to wait about 20 minutes for an Entergy worker to arrive and deactivate the line.
Fire officials don’t believe the power line had anything to do with starting the fire.
The building’s owner, McKinley “Mac” Cantrell Jr., said he planned to check surveillance video from neighboring businesses in hopes of confirming whether arsonists were to blame for the fire at the warehouse, which is one of several his firm owns in that area of Kenner.
He said he was told two men were spotted parking a black car outside the warehouse, walking up to a float used in last weekend’s Irish-Italian parade in Metairie and setting it on fire.
Thompson said his investigators had not confirmed whether an eyewitness had actually seen a pair of men start the fire. But he said the investigators would also seek surveillance footage from nearby businesses and interview their owners.
Cantrell said he felt fortunate only a few of the floats in the warehouse sustained superficial damage to their canvas and paint. Racks full of the company’s trademark papier-mâché props were destroyed, as were some of the tractors and other pieces of equipment.
“It could’ve been a lot worse,” Cantrell said. “We’re going to be fine for the 2017 Mardi Gras season, and I am thankful for that.”
McKinley Cantrell III, the company’s art director, said he had “a lump in the throat” thinking about how much money it would cost to repair the $900,000 warehouse.
He said the family took a financial blow after a July 2007 fire destroyed an adjacent company building, wrecking everything inside.
“Now, we’ve got to absorb this,” he said. The business “is everything to our family, but we’re tough SOBs, and we’re going to prevail.”
His grandfather, McKinley Cantrell Sr., founded the family float-building company about 1955. It has been based in Kenner for more than three decades.