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Arson ruled out in restaurant fire


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GREENFIELD — Almost two months after a popular restaurant burned to the ground, investigators are still unsure of the cause, but they know this much: It wasn’t arson.

El Rodeo, 2203 N. State St., caught fire the evening of Nov. 12, and the building was quickly consumed by flames. By the time firefighters arrived, it was clear there was nothing that could be done to save the restaurant.

Patrons who were there for dinner that night, as well all servers and staff, made it out safely, but the building was a total loss.

It was El Rodeo’s second fire in a month. Fire officials responded to a less serious fire Oct. 12 when the building’s attic caught fire after an issue with the water heater. No one was injured in that incident, either, and the restaurant reopened a day later.

The fire that destroyed the restaurant in November appears to have started in the same area, Greenfield Fire Chief James Roberts said.

“There was fire through the roof five minutes before we got the call,” Roberts said. “There were people still sitting in there, eating, and they noticed smoke on the ceiling.”

Material recovered from the rubble has been sent to a forensic lab in hopes of determining a cause, Greenfield fire investigator Brett Towle said.

Once the fire was ruled accidental, the local fire department’s role in the investigation was essentially over, he said. The restaurant’s insurance company is footing the bill for further analysis to determine an exact cause.

Towle said he narrowed the cause down to a faulty hood system or air handling unit. The cause could also be faulty electrical wiring, he said.

Towle expects it will be another three to four months before the lab will have results.

When firefighters arrived on the scene, there was still no fire inside the main dining area or kitchen, but the flames quickly weakened the ceiling, which then fell.

Video surveillance footage from surrounding buildings confirmed fire officials’ belief the blaze started in the attic, Roberts said.

Attic fires are especially dangerous and often prohibit firefighters from entering the building for fear of the structure collapsing, Roberts said.

“When you’ve got a fire going like that in an attic, you have to be able to read the smoke to know whether to send guys in or whether it’s done,” he said. “When we got there, we were beyond the point of sending anybody in. It’s done deal.”

There is no indication the fire was intentionally set, Roberts said.

“There were no red flags, nothing,” he said. “There was no reason to believe anyone started it.”

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