Flames boiled out from a storage shed behind Cambria Café about 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, May 8, sending smoke roiling through East Village before firefighters extinguished the blaze.
Bar patrons on the back patio of Mozzi’s bar smelled smoke and saw flames shooting out of the shed next door.
Mark Milligan said he had been on Mozzi’s back patio, “enjoying a fine beverage,” when he looked around the corner to the back of Cambria Café at 2282 Main St., which borders on alley.
About two dozen or so patrons were inside the bar at the time, according to bartender Anna Barroero, when Ricky Rammler dashed in and yelled that he needed a fire extinguisher because smoke was pouring out of the shed.
As Rammler battled the blaze with the extinguisher, Barroero alerted 911 and bar patrons, and Milligan said he raced upstairs at Mozzi’s, where he lives, to alert residents of the six upstairs living units. Two people were home. They got out.
Fire engines, snakes of yellow hoses connected to fire hydrants and knots of anxious onlookers soon filled Main, Bridge and Center streets near the café.
Cambria Fire Department “was there less than five minutes later,” Barroero recalled, followed by engine crews from Cal Fire, Hearst Castle, Cayucos and Morro Bay.
The fire was declared officially out at 6:38 p.m. The fire’s cause likely “will be listed as undetermined,” Fire Captain Bill Hollingsworth said Wednesday morning. He estimated damages at about $25,000, mostly in smoke damage and the destroyed shed, which Cambria Café owner Nanyeli Mendoza said housed a water heater, catering supplies, rarely used cooking equipment and stored papers.
The café, which serves breakfast and lunch, was closed when the fire broke out. Officials also closed the bar and Bob & Jan’s Bottle Shop. Mozzi’s reopened later the same night; Bob & Jan’s expected to reopen Wednesday afternoon, pending clearance from county officials.
Firefighters confirmed that the fire was out using thermal-imaging cameras.
Cambria Fire Chief Mark Miller explained one of his big concerns:
“There’s a gap of 3 to 6 inches between the café and the bar buildings, and it’s always been one of our worst nightmares that a fire would get started” in collected debris in there. Miller has said that if that happened under the wrong circumstances, the entire block of old buildings could go up in smoke.
Cambria’s downtown has had other notable fires. The Great Fire of 1889 destroyed most of the downtown area now known as East Village. It began in a woodpile behind the Proctor Hotel, where Bob and Jan’s is now, mere feet away from Tuesday’s fire.