Sunday, October 5, 1997

Small fire starts at Boone Tavern: Officials say the restaurant might be closed for a couple of days

Published in the Columbia Missourian

A basement fire caused the evacuation of the Boone Tavern and Restaurant, adjoining businesses and apartments on Walnut Street on Saturday afternoon. The cleanup might keep the restaurant closed for a couple of days.

Boone Tavern employees were setting up for a busy Saturday of celebrating football fans when they smelled smoke.

"We smelled smoke and thought it was in the oven," said a kitchen worker. An employee went down to the basement where a clothes dryer was drying the restaurant's tablecloths and napkins.

A plastic tub had caught fire on top of a commercial dryer. Flames licked the ceiling. A broken water line in the basement caused some flooding. "By the time we got down there, it was already on fire," said kitchen manager Robert Dodd.

Tavern staff used two kitchen fire extinguishers on the dryer before calling the fire department and evacuating the restaurant.

"It came to a halt real fast. We had to pretty much drop everything and leave," Dodd said. "We got everybody out safe."

Some sprinklers in the basement were activated automatically, said George Glenn, division chief at the Columbia Fire Department.

"If the sprinklers went off, it could take a day or two to reopen," said Jim Koetting, the restaurant's general manager.

The fire department estimated the damage at $12,000.

When firefighters arrived, they pulled an engine around to the rear of the restaurant, between the restaurant building and the Boone County Government Center at the north end of the courthouse square.

While some firefighters got the fire under control, others went around to the apartments above and next to the restaurant, asking residents to leave for their safety.

"I didn't smell smoke until I opened the door," resident Shana Jones said. She said she wasn't worried about her apartment or its contents.

To clear out smoke, firefighters set up fans in the basement, the main restaurant area and the basement of the apartments. Smoke damage was minor. Six engines responded, as is normal for a fire in a commercial building in the downtown area. Also responding were two ambulances, an air supply truck from the Boone County Fire Protection District and several police officers, who supervised traffic.

Union Electric was also on the scene, checking for gas leaks. None were found, according to a technician who performed the check.

The Health Department will determine when the restaurant can reopen after inspecting the food preparation and storage facilities.