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Officials: Blaze began in restaurant laundry area

John HartA view of the burned brick wall in the back of the old Elks Lodge on the Commercial Street side of the structure.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Downtown Nevada City’s devastating fire started in a restaurant laundry room, investigators concluded Tuesday. The restaurant’s owners, however, aren’t convinced of the findings.

Investigators narrowed the area of origin of the March 20 blaze at North Pine and Commercial streets to the the first-floor laundry room of Friar Tuck’s Restaurant & Bar, said Nevada City police Sgt. Lorin Gage.



The fire’s cause and the starting point within the laundry room remain unknown. But because the fire isn’t considered suspicious, the investigation is over, Gage said.




Later at the site, Friar Tuck’s owners Greg and Rona Cook shook their heads at the findings – which were reached by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Nevada City police and fire departments, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the state fire marshal, the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District and the Grass Valley Fire Department.

“They really don’t know,” Greg Cook said, noting insurance investigators are still looking into the estimated $3 million blaze and will be at the site again today.

The Cooks, who owned the restaurant nearly 30 years, said they glanced into the laundry room Tuesday afternoon and saw a box of toilet paper.

“If that’s the point of origin, it wouldn’t be there,” Greg Cook said, holding a clump of charred cash burned in the restaurant’s safe.

The laundry room was to the rear of the restaurant in the building’s northwest corner, next to Commercial Street.

The cause might never be known, Gage said, although ATF could learn more from laboratory tests on materials believed to be from the laundry room, which housed a washer, dryer and hamper.

Investigators believe it started in the room because of the fire’s burn patterns, Gage said.

There had been a fire in the same room two days before, in a hamper, but there is no known connection, Gage said.

In the earlier fire, a pile of rags were found smoldering in the hamper, but the fire was put out before Nevada City firefighters arrived, according to CDF.

Greg Cook said Tuesday that the same hamper is still in the laundry room and shows its original green color.

The restaurant shared the same building with The Herb Shop, which also had a deli and record store, on the first floor; and the Nevada County Probation Department on the second floor.

Next door, on Commercial Street, the Off Broadstreet theater suffered smoke and water damage, and Broad Street businesses also had water damage.

Learning a cause might be more crucial to the handful of insurance companies involved to both determine liability and prevent a similar fire, officials have said.

Demolition will start once the insurance investigations conclude and environmental concerns are addressed, said Don Hoffler of Robinson Enterprises, which was hired to tear down the building.

The job will be tricky because the building – known as the old Elks Lodge – shares a wall with Broad Street businesses.

Environmental concerns would include any asbestos or lead used in the 90-year-old building’s construction or remodeling.

“But I don’t think this building gets into that time zone of when they had asbestos,” said Hoffler, who’s also a battalion chief for the 49er Fire Protection District.

Robinson Enterprises is also in talks with the county Department of Transportation and Sanitation about how much debris the McCourtney Road Transfer Station can handle.

Without delays, Hoffler said demolition and debris removal could be done in about a week.


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