Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fire consumes Ketchum restaurant

Owner of Vintage hopes to reopen by Dec. 1

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle inspects on Monday morning the scorched interior of the log cabin that houses Vintage restaurant. Photo by Willy Cook

Ketchum diners will be one restaurant down this fall, after the interior of Vintage restaurant was ravaged by flames early Monday morning.
    The restaurant, which serves regional Northwest cuisine in its location at 231 Leadville Ave. N., will be closed for repairs until December at the earliest.
    “The fire did a lot of damage to the inside of the building,” Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said Monday.
    Elle said the fire does not seem to have been arson-related.
    “The cause is being investigated by a fire cause-analysis investigator hired by the building owner’s insurance company,” Elle said. “A pre-investigation report indicates the cause seems to have been accidental, probably electrical in nature.”
    Vintage owner and chef Jeff Keys thinks he might know the source of the fire.

“The temperatures were extreme. It must have been quite visual.”
Mike Elle
Ketchum Fire Chief

    “Mike Elle told me that an air-conditioning unit most likely started the fire,” Keys said Monday. “It’s a new A.C. unit. I bought it on July 3. We’ve used air-conditioners like that one in the building during the summer since 1995 without any trouble.”
    Keys said that the business is insured and that the insurance company’s inspector is coming “soon” to conduct a full investigation of the fire’s cause.
    “Until the inspector checks it out, we can’t touch anything,” Keys said.
    According to Elle, the fire started just after 2 a.m.
    “We received a dispatch for a fire alarm at 2:17 a.m.” Elle said. “The on-duty crew was on the scene at about 2:22 a.m. and knock-down was called at 2:28 a.m., just six minutes after the first team arrived.”
    “Knock-down” is a term used by firefighters to describe when a fire has been fully extinguished. While the firefighters were on their way to the scene, Elle said the dispatch phone was “ringing off the hook” with reports of “large flames” coming out of the building.
    “At 2:45 a.m. I got a call from Sentinel,” Keys said. “They told me my restaurant was on fire!”
    Sentinel is a fire and security alarm company based in Ketchum.
    “They asked if I could come up,” Keys said. “Of course, I went. I got there at 3:30 a.m. The firefighters had put the fire out by then. If they hadn’t responded as quickly as they did, the whole place would have gone down.”
    Elle was also pleased with the speedy response and quick knock-down time.
    “Tom Ancona, the on-duty captain, used an inch-and-three-quarter, pre-connected fire hose to knock the fire down,” Elle said. “It was an awesome job once again by our firefighters.”
    Elle said that firefighters from both Ketchum and Sun Valley were involved in the effort.
    “All in all, there were eight different fire apparatus at the scene and 22 firefighters,” he said.
    According to both Elle and Keys, the Vintage fire seems to have burned at a particularly high temperature.
    “The heat damage inside the restaurant was extensive throughout,” Elle said. “It was an incredibly hot fire. The temperatures were extreme.”
    One of the reasons for the excess heat was that the kitchen exhaust fans were on, Elle said. This pulled air through the building, making the fire burn hotter. Shortly before the firefighters arrived, the windows broke, adding fuel to the fire in the form of oxygen.
    “When the windows broke, the fire vented and burned even hotter,” Elle said. “It must have been quite visual at this point.”
    Keys said the heat ravaged many of the restaurant’s assets.
    “Most all the windows were broken, including some antique, stained-glass windows I had,” Keys said. “All my artwork melted. All my wines were destroyed. It got so hot the corks popped out.”
    Keys said the smoke caused irreparable damage to much of the kitchen equipment, exposing it to so many toxins that most of it will have to be replaced.
    Luckily, the damage seems to have been limited to the building’s interior.
    “A lot of stuff got burned, but the fire didn’t affect the structural integrity of the walls,” Keys said. “We’re going to have to gut and rebuild the whole interior, though.”
    Keys seems hopeful that the remodel can be accomplished in a few short months.
    “Our plan is to rise from the ashes and be open for the winter season,” Keys said. “Luckily, we had one of the best summers in the history of the place. This restaurant has been awfully good to me. I’ve raised my three kids off of it. I hope to open the doors again by Dec. 1.”    

Brennan Rego:

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