A gasoline can stored in an electrical room with a water heater and an electrical panel sparked a fire Thursday morning that shut down the Denny’s restaurant on Madonna Road in San Luis Obispo, according to the city fire marshal.
The fire, contained in the restaurant’s attic, caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and left as many as 40 employees temporarily out of work.
Firefighters responded to the call around 7:18 a.m. and extinguished the fire by 7:38 a.m. Witnesses said they could see smoke rising from the building’s roof but did not see flames at first. But as fire crews worked to cut ventilation holes in the roof, the flames could be seen rising hot and quick.
No one was injured. There was no clear estimate of how many customers were inside the restaurant at the time of the fire. The restaurant does not have fire sprinklers, according to the San Luis Obispo Fire Department.
Battalion Chief Neal Berryman said firefighters were able to help move out more than $20,000 worth of undamaged food that had just been delivered to the restaurant.
Owner Ali Tabrizi said the restaurant would likely be closed for a number of weeks for repairs.
He said the gas can, used to fill a pressure washer, was empty at the time of the fire. But city Fire Marshal Rodger Maggio said the can still had liquid in it when he examined the room.
Tabrizi added that the restaurant’s district manager saw the electrical panel on fire and used an extinguisher to put it out. But the blaze had already spread to the attic, he said.
Tabrizi, who owns several Denny’s franchises from Santa Maria to King City and recently announced plans to open one in Atascadero, said he would try and find temporary work for affected employees at his nearby restaurants.
Smoldering debris kept firefighters at the scene for the majority of the day as crews worked to remove any risk of the fire reigniting. The smoke could be smelled for miles.
Maggio said several code violations were found at the restaurant, including using an attic without sprinklers as a storage area and keeping an ignitable liquid in the electrical room.
“It was a hot day yesterday and warm this morning,” Maggio said. “Gasoline, when it heats up, releases vapors into the room and was surrounded by all sorts of ignition sources.”
Maggio said the flames shot up the wall toward the line for the building’s vacuum system and into the attic like a chimney where it burned until firefighters put it out.
Denny’s is the third restaurant without fire sprinklers in the past two years to receive major fire damage, said Maggio.
Bon Temps, a Cajun restaurant in San Luis Obispo, recently reopened seven months after a fire caused up to $100,000 in damage to its interior.
In March 2010, an arson fire completely destroyed Cabo San Luis on Foothill Boulevard. Kona’s Deli, damaged in the same blaze, just reopened last month.
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.
Here's a video of the fire, shot by San Luis Obispo Fire Capt. Neal Berryman.