Friday, March 8, 2013

Chez Panisse restaurant closed after fire

Re-posted from Contra Costa Times 
Note:  There are numerous fires in Contra Costa County that bear strong connections to this one.  The Easy Bay Arsonist often starts the fires on porches, sheds and structures near the building.  

Keywords: Arson, Restaurant Fire, Fire Starter, 3AM, 


BERKELEY -- The world-famous Chez Panisse restaurant was damaged by a fire early Friday morning, but a sprinkler in a downstairs dining room may have saved the building from being destroyed, fire officials said.
A tearful Alice Waters stood in front of the Berkeley iconic eatery she co-founded in 1971, recalling a fire that started more than 30 years ago, as she cooked in the kitchen.
After touring the darkened restaurant with fire officials early Friday morning, the stress of the event was evident on Waters' face which started with a grimace went to a smile and back to the countenance of someone trying very hard to keep herself together. As she exited the building and crossed Shattuck Avenue to talk with waiting press, a fire official accompanied her, and she hugged her long time pastry chef Mary Jo Thorsen.
"It brings up a lot of emotional sadness for me," a barely audible Waters said to rows of news cameras and microphones. "It reminded me of the first time when it took out a wall between the kitchen and the dining room. I'm just glad nobody was in the building."
No one was injured in the blaze, which was reported just after 3 a.m. at the restaurant at 1517 Shattuck Ave. The fire was under control by about 4:30 a.m.
Damage was heavy in the front porch area, near where the fire was thought to have started. Flames spread inside the building, to a downstairs dining area, but a sprinkler there controlled the blaze as

firefighters worked from the inside, likely saving the building, according to Berkeley fire spokesman Avery Webb.
Waters already had some new ideas for fixing the charred downstairs portion of her restaurant.
"The first thought I had is maybe we should extend the dining room out," Waters said.
The fire initially was being treated as suspicious in nature because it started under the porch which is "unusual," Webb said. But investigators also are focusing on some electrical equipment under the porch as a possible cause.
"They don't know whether it was an electrical problem or someone smoking out front or what," Waters said.
Both Waters and Webb said that considering the relatively low amount of fire damage, the restaurant could conceivably reopen as soon as next week.
"It's hard to say what they'll allow us to do," Waters said. She said it was a "miracle" that there appeared to be no damage to the structural beams that hold up the building.
But smoke damage to the entire restaurant will be an issue, Webb said. He said the city's health department will also have to inspect the building before it reopens.
It's always smoky in there," Waters said. "I guess we'll just have to burn more rosemary."
Webb estimated the damage at $150,000 to $200,000.

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