El Charro restaurant burns
Smoke damages two neighboring Main Street buildings; multi-level ceiling slows fire fight
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Jan. 17, 2006 — An early morning blaze destroyed a Mexican restaurant Tuesday that was a veritable Sulphur Springs insitution, and lightly smoke damaged the two Main Street businesses located on either side of it.

Sulphur Springs fire investigators were still working at lunch time Tuesday morning trying to determine the point of origin and cause of the fire at El Charro restaurant.

"Most of the building had water and heavy smoke damage," Assistant Fire Marshal Eric Hill said midmorning Tuesday. "El Charro will probably be written off."

Hill said most of the fire damage was in the drop ceiling and attic area, and fire damage was contained to that area, but El Charro sustained "major damage." He added that a lot of equipment will be salvageable, however.

The assistant fire marshal also said there was minor smoke damage to one of the adjacent buildings, but the building to the east had “quite a bit more smoke damage.”

Authorities were first alerted to the fire at about 2:15 a.m. Tuesday. Dispatchers at the police station called for a patrol officer to return to the station to find out why people were banging on the back door at the station. The patrol officer noticed smoke pouring out the front of El Charro while driving to the police station, where they learned the people banging on the door were trying to notify them of the fire, according to Hill.

When firefighters arrived, they saw flames coming out of boarded up windows above the front awning, according to Hill. More crews were called in to help extinguish the blaze. One team began battling the fire in the front from the outside. Another circled the building to see if the fire had spread to the rear of the building and to look for a place to enter the building and begin an interior attack on the fire. At the back of the structure, firemen found heavy smoke but no visible flames, according to Hill. 

The fire at the front of the building was quickly knocked down, and firemen knocked down the front door to enter the structure and continue battling the blaze.

Unfortunately, as is the case with most of the older buildings located around the downtown square, El Charro has several ceiling levels, which presented difficulties for firemen. The building was originally constructed with a high ceiling of about 16 feet. Beneath that  was a drop ceiling consisting mostly of ceiling tiles held in place by wire dropped from the original ceiling, leaving three to four feet of crawl space. Also, a space about a foot or more existed between the original ceiling and the roof of the building, firefighters explained.

When the firefighters entered the building, they found  heavy fire had developed on the left side along the false ceiling and were able to douse those flames relatively quickly. However, the fire continued to spread in the upper levels of the building between the roof and false drop ceiling, which were difficult to get to due to the limited reach of their ladders, according to Hill.

Firemen made two attempts to cut through the ceiling layers to get to the rapidly spreading fire above them before using the department's ladder truck to put several firemen on the roof. They were successful in cutting through the roof, which redirected the fire upward and made it accessible to firemen, who then extinguished it.

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