Official: Workers at Anson restaurant tried to extinguish blaze that was too big

Charleston firefighters battle the blaze at Anson Restaurant that started in the kitchen near the grill and spread as the staff was preparing Christmas Eve dinner on Tuesday. Buy this photo

Workers tried unsuccessfully to extinguish a fire that damaged a popular downtown Charleston restaurant earlier this week, a city official said Friday.

The blaze ignited around noon Tuesday near the grill at Anson as cooks prepared Christmas Eve dinner.

Charleston Fire Department spokesman Ryan Kunitzer said a chef yelled to co-workers, who escaped through a nearby door. The chef then used an extinguisher and turned on the kitchen's hood suppression system in an attempt to snuff the flames.

But the fire already was too big.

It shot up the system's exhaust vent, into a second-floor office and through the roof. One of the workers in the parking lot called 911.

Kunitzer used the incident as a chance to remind people that extinguishers are designed for smaller fires and that people should focus on getting out and calling for help instead of trying to put out such a blaze.

In the Anson blaze, though, Kunitzer said the attempt likely didn't hinder the Fire Department's response. From the moment they got the call, it took firefighters about three minutes to show up.

"The whole chain of events was quick," Kunitzer said. "In some cases, you can say that attempting to put out a fire could cause a delay. But with a kitchen and grease, this one happened pretty quickly."

Nobody was injured in the fire at 12 Anson St. Flames and smoke damaged the first-floor kitchen and the second floor when the fire spread through combustible material, Kunitzer said.

But the precise cause of the blaze had not been released. Kunitzer said city fire marshals were working with building managers and insurance investigators to complete their probe. One of their focuses was on the suppression system.

"Fire and smoke will get sucked up into that hood," he said. "We're looking at it to see if it worked right."

Several would-be diners were disappointed when they showed up for a Christmas Day meal at the restaurant, where crews already were working to restore the building to its original luster. Signs deeming the structure unsafe and a note apologizing for the eatery's charred state greeted them.

Anson officials have not said when the doors might reopen for business. Attempts on Friday to contact them by email and telephone were not immediately successful.

Located near the Charleston City Market, the restaurant is one of the downtown food scene's mainstays, having specialized in Southern and continental fare for the past 21 years.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.

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