COLUMBIA — Jenny Cheng walked past piles of burned rubble and oily grease Monday, into what was left of Hong Kong Restaurant, which she opened in 1995. With help from a security guard, she was able to retrieve some cash and a small red Buddha shrine.
"I was coming back for the Buddha," Cheng said. "It was interesting that the whole corner where the shrine stood were not burned down."
But most of the restaurant was not so lucky, like the other stores in the strip mall. And for now, Cheng said she has no option other than to wait, as she can't afford to open another restaurant elsewhere.
Sunday's fire completely destroyed O'Reilly Auto Parts and badly damaged the rest of the strip mall at 106 Business Loop 70 W., which included the restaurant.
Battalion Chief Steven Sapp said the Columbia Fire Department was still investigating the fire's cause as of Monday afternoon. He said that the fire department has theories as to what caused the fire but that he couldn't share them without further investigation.
Firefighters arrived on the scene soon after they received the call at 4:45 a.m. Sunday and were still fighting a smoldering fire at 5:30 p.m., according to a previous Missourian report.
"It's cold now," Sapp said of the blaze.
He said there are no longer any hot spots but that there was a possibility the area could heat up again once people begin moving the debris around to clean up.
"The fire was tremendously labor intensive," Sapp said.
He said one-third of the building was in flames by the time the fire department received the call.
On top of that, Sapp said the fire was difficult to get to because of the building's construction. The fire was hidden between the flat sections of the aluminum roof.
"The crews all worked hard," Sapp said.
He said because of the size, intensity and labor involved in fighting the fire, the fire department worked to get the firefighters into rehab — a 15- to 20-minute break in a bus parked nearby — as often as possible. Paramedics checked the firefighters vital signs and hydration levels, and the firefighters were given water and sports drinks.
Sue Cross, who lives nearby, said she will miss the stores and the restaurant.
"I used to get food at the restaurant and shop at the Dollar General," she said. "I hope that they reopen soon."
But first, there is all the damage to deal with.
"My money and years of effort were all in there," Cheng said, adding that it would be difficult for her family now that the restaurant is out of business and for four employees who are now out of work.
For Cheng, her bad luck started Wednesday, when she was robbed of about $500 in her restaurant at gunpoint. Then, on Sunday morning, she learned about the fire on her way to open the restaurant, when she saw fire trucks and smelled smoke from three blocks away.
Despite the robbery and the fire, Cheng said she wants to reopen the restaurant at the same location, adding that the spot is good for business.
"We will come back and serve the best Chinese food," she said.