RIB MOUNTAIN (WAOW) - Some workers trying to clean a pressure cooker fryer accidentally disconnected a natural gas line, leading to the fire that destroyed a Wendy's restaurant, an investigator said Wednesday.
“Employees say that all of a sudden there was fire everywhere,” Rib Mountain Deputy Fire Chief John Lauer said. “All the hot, super-heated gas, once we vented the building, it flashed and it was gone.”
The Oct. 10 fire caused an estimated $1.5 million loss of a restaurant built in the 1990s, Lauer said.
Investigators are unsure how the gas ignited but suspect it was from the pilot light of another appliance, he said.
According to Lauer, four workers cleaning up about 10:30 p.m. pulled the fryer used to cook chicken from the wall to clean and disconnected the natural gas line.
“They heard the hissing and knew right way it was gas,” Lauer said.
The workers fled the building, called their manager to ask how to shut it off, got that information, one went back inside to turn off the proper valve and he was in that process when fire erupted, Lauer said.
“He said flames shot underneath the stove and pressure cooker and between his legs and there was fire everywhere,” Lauer said.
The worker didn't get burned and told investigators he tried to use a fire extinguisher but it didn't work, Lauer said.
For several minutes as workers sought advice on what to do, natural gas poured into the restaurant before it ignited, the deputy fire chief said.
“The word explosion was never used,” Lauer said. “It was described as fire everywhere. Rapid ignition would be my word to use.”
He added, “For at least 20 minutes, that was a free burning gas fire.”
The workers were lucky they were not hurt, especially the one who went back inside a building with hot grease and pilot lights that was filling with natural gas, he said.
“They are fortunate to have left with their lives,” Lauer said.