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The owner of the field where the Balch Springs fire started owns five similar properties

Dallas Morning News logo Dallas Morning News 8/19/2022 Isabella Volmert, The Dallas Morning News
Destroyed houses by a grass fire in Balch Spring on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. The incident occured on Monday, July 25, 2022. © Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News/TNS Destroyed houses by a grass fire in Balch Spring on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. The incident occured on Monday, July 25, 2022.

Twenty-seven homes were damaged and nine of them totally destroyed on July 25 when a large grass fire swept through Spring Ridge, a neighborhood in Balch Springs.

The 67-acre vacant lot where the grass fire started is owned by Sikka Investments LLC. The group owns five similar vacant lots across Dallas County, all but one directly bordering gas stations on property owned or previously owned by the company. Some of the fields are right next to homes, including the Balch Springs property, and some of the fields last week had patches of tall grass. The city of Irving recently cited a Sikka property for tall grass and weeds.

A vacant lot on S. St. Augustine Dr. in Dallas on Wednesday, August 10, 2022 which its owners are the same of the land where the grassfire started in Balch Springs. © Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News/TNS A vacant lot on S. St. Augustine Dr. in Dallas on Wednesday, August 10, 2022 which its owners are the same of the land where the grassfire started in Balch Springs.

Fire marshal Sean Davis said the grass on the Sikka property in Balch Springs had grown beyond city code standards, to the point of creating “a heavy amount of fuel.”

“And once ignited, there’s just a whole lot of material to burn at that point,” he said.

As months without rain led to drought, grassy fields have become tinder for wildfires across the area. Fire officials say poor maintenance of the Sikka field led to a fire that destroyed a neighborhood.

Destroyed houses by a grass fire in Balch Spring on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. The incident occured on Monday, July 25, 2022. © Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News/TNS Destroyed houses by a grass fire in Balch Spring on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. The incident occured on Monday, July 25, 2022.

Sikka Investments, with corporate addresses in Plano and Dallas, acquired the land in Balch Springs on the corner of Belt Line Road and Interstate 20 in May 2014, according to Dallas County appraisal records. The group sold part of the property in September, the current location of a Fox Fuels gas station, to Mountain Express Oil Company, a gas station real estate and distribution company based in Georgia.

Destroyed houses by a grass fire in Balch Spring on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. The incident occured on Monday, July 25, 2022. © Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News/TNS Destroyed houses by a grass fire in Balch Spring on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. The incident occured on Monday, July 25, 2022.

Sikka Investments did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Mountain Express Oil confirmed in a written statement it owns the Fox Fuels location on Belt Line, not the vacant lot, and has since contributed over $5,000 to the City of Balch Springs Spring Ridge Fire Recovery Fund.

Balch Springs issued a citation to the owners of the vacant field to appear in court following two requests to cut the grass, which had grown past code standards, authorities said at the time of the blaze. Residents have said they complained to the city multiple times about the overgrowth and height of the grass.

The owners hired contractors to mow the grass after the citation, authorities said. Fire marshal Davis said the grass fire started when a mower blade struck a hard object, creating a spark that ignited the dry field. He said in the past, workers had “for months or maybe years” piled dead grass against a fence on the property.

Davis said he could not provide additional information on the contractors who were mowing the field or the property’s owners, citing the department’s ongoing investigation.

Similar properties

Sikka Investments owns nine properties throughout the area, according to county records: six in Dallas, two in Irving, and one in Balch Springs, the site of the July 25 fire. Six of the properties are vacant lots ranging from 0.6 to 67 acres, all at the corners of major roads and all but one adjacent to gas stations.

Two properties border residential neighborhoods, similar to the way the Balch Springs property directly borders the Spring Ridge subdivision.

At the Sikka property in southeast Dallas on St. Augustine Drive, a gas station is under construction. Directly behind the station is a 19-acre plot of land owned by Sikka Investments, similar to the layout of the Balch Springs vacant lot.

Rows of subdivision houses face the southeast Dallas field from Brierwood Lane and Whistler Drive. As of last week, the vacant lot had visible patches of tall vegetation and was marked off by construction fences.

The 19-acre lot is five miles west on I-20 from the site of the original fire.

A Fox Fuels gas station on property owned by Sikka Investments is at the corner of Northgate Drive and Texas 161 Frontage Road, in Irving. A much smaller 0.6-acre plot of land also owned by Sikka Investments sits between the station and the intersection of these roads. Documents show the Irving code enforcement department issued a code violation notice against Sikka in early August for “grass/weeds in excess of 10 inches.”

Shane Diller, code enforcement director of Irving, said a reinspection conducted Tuesday found the property “not in-compliance for violations of trash/debris and high grass & weeds.”

“The city is in the process now of preparing to have the grass mowed by a city contractor,” he said in a written statement.

The group owns three other vacant lots directly next to Fox Fuels gas stations in Buckner Terrace on Buckner Road, in southern Dallas on Marvin D. Love Freeway, and the site in Balch Springs. Sikka Investments sold the real estate of the three Fox Fuels gas stations to Mountain Express Oil in 2021.

Directly adjacent to the Buckner Terrace station is a three-acre vacant lot owned by Sikka Investments, where the grass was cut short as of last week. A row of houses borders the lot to the north.

A five-acre vacant lot owned by Sikka Investments wraps around the Fox Fuels station in southern Dallas. Visibly tall and dry vegetation and grass could be seen on the vacant lot along with long-dead, dry palm trees. Power lines are behind the field on land owned by Oncor.

Additionally, Sikka owns a one-acre vacant lot in Red Bird at the northwest corner of South Polk Street and Interstate 20 next to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Academy. The lot is across Polk street from an Exxon location that was never owned by Sikka or Mountain Express. The lot’s grass was cut short as of last week.

The group’s latest listed property is a CVS location Sikka Investments bought from the pharmacy giant in March.

Balch Springs City Manager Susan Cluse said the city is not pursuing legal action against Sikka, and the fire is still under investigation. She said at the moment, many of the residents, some homeowners, some renters, are staying in area hotels with help from the city and charitable organizations.

Most people are still in the process of receiving information from their insurance companies.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to help them get them back on their feet,” she said.

©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Visit dallasnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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