Firefighters and police were on the scene investigating a fire at the Twisted Tomato restaurant on Bernard Avenue. The owners say they will rebuild after the devastating blaze.
The blaze gutted the rear of the century-old space and caused serious smoke damage to the rest of the Bernard Avenue eatery. Owners Jason Troll and his wife Michelle wept openly as friends hugged them outside the front door Monday morning.
"We've put our lives and souls into this building. We'll rebuild. We're strong. We've been through too much," said Jason Troll. "Kelowna's been good to us. We don't want to leave and we'll do everything we can to rebuild."
The couple, who opened the restaurant three years ago, worked until after 9 p.m. Sunday and noticed nothing peculiar when closing up. They were "very busy," Troll said.
"Business has been outstanding for us . . . Let's hope (customers) keep up when we open."
The alarm went off at 2:39 a.m. Monday. Black smoke was wafting out the front door when the first of 18 firefighters arrived. Crews found no one inside. They encountered substantial flames in the back area and plenty of heavy smoke from burning plastic.
The heat and smoke descended to a metre above the floor, forcing firefighters to use breathing apparatus.
"The guys had a tough time going in to find it. They just went in by hearing the (crackling)," said Platoon Capt. Dale Calhoun.
They blasted water to put out the flame,s but had to check for extension into the walls and above. Previous owners had suspended false ceilings from the original ceiling and firefighters found sawdust insulation in parts of the walls.
Crews contained the fire and stopped it from spreading to the businesses on either side - Momo Sushi and the Bread Company, which had to close for several months in 2009 after its own fire. Investigators located the fire's origin in a storage area close to the washer and dryer. Both appliances were clean inside, said Calhoun.
"It's something that happened in that area."
Fire inspector Rick Euper determined the blaze was accidental and may have started in a pile of rags. The materials were mixed with animal grease from the deep fryer and cleaning supplies.
"They had an issue with it earlier that night," Euper said. "They noticed smoking earlier, took them out and got rid of the ones that were burning."
A Mountie brought out burned linen in a bag. Like a compost heap, piles of dirty fabric can release heat energy. Rags in a dryer sparked a similar fire at the Harvest Golf Club, Euper said.
The tables and chairs were smoke-damaged, but can be cleaned, Calhoun said. The interior walls, ceiling and wiring were destroyed, but the structure of the building, erected in 1913, is intact.
The restaurant employs 25 to 30 people, said Troll. He and his wife moved to Kelowna from Nelson, where they ran a restaurant. He considers the Twisted Tomato, open seven days a week, his "home" now.
"It's our passion. It's our love."
The business is insured and an agent visited the site Monday morning. It's too early to tell when it will reopen.