OREM — A late-night blaze Wednesday that filled the University Mall with sooty black smoke and closed two stores for water damage still seems small compared to last year's flood, a mall official said.

"This is minor compared to that," said Cindy Koenig, marketing director for the mall at 575 E. University Parkway. "We'll definitely recover really quickly. We did with the flood. I don't see why this wouldn't be a quicker recovery."

Just before 11 p.m. Wednesday, Orem police and fire officials responded to a fire alarm at the mall, noting the billowing black smoke long before they arrived at the north end of the mall, near Mervyns.

Police said welders had been working on a kids treehouse and were trying to connect metal beams from the tree to the building when a spark set the inside of the tree on fire.

Orem Police Lt. Doug Edwards said the workers tried to put out the flames on the polyurethane-type material, but they couldn't, and the alarms went off, dousing the mall and putting out the fire but doing very little about the smoke.

The mall's ventilation system drew the smoke out through the roof, which explained why officers could see it nearly approaching State Street.

Police estimated damage at $1.2 million, but they said it's not as bad as it could have been.

"The smoke smell was not very bad this morning when I went in there," Edwards said. "It could have been a lot worse than it ended up being."

That worse situation was the flood last September, when a water line broke near Deseret Book and ended up flooding nearly 50 stores with thousands of gallons of water — at least 4 inches deep.

Thursday morning, Payless ShoeSource employees were in a meeting and said they would be taking their shoes to a special location to smell for smoke damage.

Mall Dental was closed Thursday as it took the brunt of the water damage, sitting adjacent to the play area where the tree caught fire, Edwards said.

No one was injured, although three welders were treated on scene for smoke inhalation.

The area where the fire occurred has been in the remodeling process for the last two months, Koenig said, in a project to expand its child-play area.

The tree had been slated to move farther north in the mall, but last year's flood sped up the process, Koenig said.

"We don't know if this will delay it any," Koenig said. "There is damage to the tree house, the chunk of it, but as far as how much damage, that hasn't been assessed yet."

But some came out of the incident unscathed, like Dawn Beal, who owns Sunrise Scents, a candle shop near the scene of the fire.

Thanks to a recently installed tile floor, a raised entrance and a solid facade, when she opened Thursday morning she had no water damage or smoke smell.

To combat the wafting smoky odors, she simply plugged in candleholders and lit a few candles.

Contributing: Tad Walch

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