Investigator determines cause of fire at Salt & Lime last weekend; restaurant to re-open in three weeks |

Investigator determines cause of fire at Salt & Lime last weekend; restaurant to re-open in three weeks

A Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue truck parks outside the Salt & Lime Mexican restaurant at 628 Lincoln Ave., where a fire caused an evacuation of the building and multiple road closures last Saturday. A private investigator has determined conduction heat from cooking equipment in the kitchen sparked flames inside the wall of the building.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — An investigator has determined the cause of a fire at the Salt & Lime Mexican restaurant last Saturday at 628 Lincoln Ave., which sparked a full evacuation of the building and multiple road closures downtown.

Following a report from a private fire investigator, Nick Sharp, director of operations for Rex’s Family of Restaurants, said conduction heat from the cooking equipment ignited a portion of the drywall and wood inside the wall, between the stainless steel interior and the concrete exterior.

“Over the last five or six years of that restaurant being in operation, the building materials in that wall had deteriorated to the point of it being vulnerable to fire,” Sharp said.

The fire appears to have caused minimal damage, restricted to a 10 square-foot portion of the kitchen, but Sharp anticipated it could take as long as three weeks before the restaurant could re-open. 

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue firefighters initially believed a malfunctioning grease hood caused the fire. 

According to Sharp, the private investigator — working for an insurance company — was surprised to find the fire suppression system inside the kitchen had not activated, which should have happened if it detected smoke in the building. That led him to believe the fire had actually ignited inside the wall.

Such a conclusion could explain why people walking past the restaurant last Saturday were the first to notice smoke seeping from the exterior of the restaurant. They alerted staff, who contacted emergency responders.

Sharp said it was fortunate the fire sparked when the restaurant was open and people were around to report it. 

“Had it have happened overnight or while no one was here, it would have been a much larger incident,” he said.

So far, repairs will include replacing the portion of stainless steel and internal wall that the fire damaged, according to Sharp. Crews will also fix parts of the roof that firefighters pulled apart during their response. He is unsure how much these repairs will cost.

Sharp and Rex Brice, owner of Salt & Lime, were thankful for the rapid response of local firefighters who extinguished any flames before they spread to other parts of the restaurant. 

“We are grateful for their competence and being able to keep this building intact,” Sharp said.

He plans to have the restaurant serving customers again before Memorial Day weekend. 

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