Skip DuCharme’s vacation ended quickly Wednesday when one of his employees at Lakota Coffee Co. called to tell him the coffee roaster had caught fire. Again.
The machine since 2001 has experienced three fires in its chaff cylinder, which collects the shed skins of roasting beans. The roaster caught fire just after noon on Wednesday after a coffee ember got sucked into the cylinder.
Battalion Chief Steven Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department estimated damage to the business, 24 S. Ninth St., at less than $5,000. That estimate included merchandise and lost business.
DuCharme, however, offered a lower estimate. Though roasters can cost as much as $25,000, there was apparently little damage to the machine.
“It’ll take about a half gallon of paint to fix the chaff cylinder; $50 is probably more like it,” DuCharme said.
While Lakota closed its doors for about an hour to clear smoke, employees of neighboring Lamb’s Jewelry were packing merchandise away. Lamb’s employee Russell Exner said he was simply being cautious in case the fire had spread.
Sapp said fire officials aren’t overly concerned about repeated fires at the coffeehouse. “Some manufacturer-processing companies have an inevitable risk involved,” he said, adding that the company cleaned the roaster Wednesday morning before the fire.
DuCharme said that since a 2002 fire, the maintenance company Advance Chimney has visited Lakota every three months to scrape build-up from the roaster.
A frequent customer noticed the roaster’s exhaust smelled different Wednesday and told Lakota workers something was wrong, DuCharme said. The employees then pulled out a hose, which is always next to the machine in case of emergencies, and used it to flush water through the machine and douse the fire.
“There was a lot of steam, a lot of smoke, a big show, and then it was all over,” DuCharme said.
The fires have always been contained to the roaster, DuCharme said. He cited one fire several years ago in which the roaster was “absolutely destroyed,” but there was no damage to the floor beneath it. That”gives you a pretty good idea of how self-contained that unit is,” he said.
DuCharme said some coffee shops add afterburners to roasters to help prevent fires but that those devices can reach 1,800 degrees and present their own hazards. That’s why he hasn’t purchased one.
“I knew fires existed in the coffee industry, and I expected sometime in my roasting career to have a coffee roaster fire, which is why I installed the hose,” DuCharme said.