Firefighters credit sprinklers for saving Colo. building

The building houses eateries, a jewelry store and office space

By Vanessa Miller
The Daily Camera

BOULDER, Colo. — Boulder firefighters are crediting sprinklers with saving a building at 14th and Pearl streets and keeping the blaze from spreading along the east end of the historic pedestrian mall Wednesday.

Initially, while fighting the fire that erupted about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday inside the kitchen in the Oak at Fourteenth restaurant, officials said they didn't think there were sprinklers in the "false ceiling" — the void space between the roof and ceiling — in the building.

But after the thick smoke cleared and investigators got in to review the scene, crews determined that sprinklers were in the space and that they had helped contain the blaze, said Boulder Fire Marshal Dave Lowrey.

The sprinklers, paired with the firefighting efforts, might have saved other businesses on the east end of the Pearl Street Mall, Lowrey said. "It could have been a lot worse," Lowrey said.

The fire charred the upper parts of the building at 1400 Pearl St., which houses eateries, a jewelry store and office space. Damage estimates from the fire stand at more than $1 million, Lowrey said.

That includes direct damages such as water-logged walls, charred ceilings and destroyed equipment, along with indirect damages such as the loss of business for shops that had to close during the fire and cleanup.

It also includes refrigerated and frozen food that eateries lost when the electricity was turned off, he said. "We are lumping it all together now as far as a dollar loss goes," Lowrey said. "It's going to get pretty high."

Boulder Fire Chief Larry Donner said the fire started inside the kitchen in the Oak at Fourteenth restaurant, but investigators haven't yet said how it was sparked.

The Oak's owner told the Camera on Wednesday that a chef saw fire in a chimney flue in the kitchen and called 911, but he didn't know how it started.

"Obviously, the crews did great work, and we got a good stop on it," Donner said. "The potential would have been to do significantly more damage."

Every firefighter in Boulder worked on the blaze.

Donner said there was concern that if the flames reached the open air, the heavy winds blowing through Boulder at the time could have ignited nearby buildings.

"Had it broken through the roof entirely, then what happens is that it spreads embers downwind and the threat is magnified greatly," Donner said.

On Thursday, workers cleaned up the scorched and soggy remains while business owners scrambled to account for their losses.

Belvedere Belgian Chocolate Shop, next door to the Oak restaurant, remained closed Thursday as workers cleaned up.

Tee & Cakes, south of the chocolate shop, also remained closed, but owners posted on Twitter that it will reopen today.

Hurdle's Jewelry was partially open Thursday, although all the stock was off the shelves and cleanup crews were working.

"We are doing our best to take care of our clients," said owner Keith Hurdle.

All the jewelry was fine, but the shop's equipment — machines that make and clean the stock — was damaged, Hurdle said.

He said things could have been worse, and he was worried during the height of the blaze on Wednesday that they would be.

"I was just standing back and watching things happen," he said. "I had no control."

Smooch Frozen Yogurt & Mochi, three doors down from Oak, was open Thursday with a makeshift door, said owner Michelle Luu.

Firefighters broke down the wooden entryway during the fire, Luu said, and she had to cover it up until she can get a new one.

Paul McCormick, a defense attorney whose offices are above the Oak restaurant, said many of his client files were destroyed, and he and his partner are without a place to work.

"I was just going to court today getting continuances," McCormick said. "I can't function as a lawyer." He's looking for a new space and said insurance will help him restore all the damaged files. "But we are really orphans right now," he said.

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