’Berg fire traced to faulty wiring

Friday, August 22, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:49 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

A swarm of hungry honey bees couldn’t prevent fire investigators from identifying the cause Thursday of the fire that wiped out the Olde Heidelberg Restaurant.

Monday’s blaze started in a ceiling area above the kitchen’s circuit breakers and was caused by faulty electrical wiring, Batallion Chief Steve Sapp said. Arson and all other possible causes have been ruled out, he said.

During Thursday’s investigation, about 1,000 honey bees mobbed two leaking six-packs of I.B.C. Root Beer and some canned beans that survived the fire, irritating investigators collecting debris at the scene, Sapp said.

“There’s so many of them, as soon as you get at them, they’re flying around you,” Assistant Fire Marshal Lt. Rick Douglas said.

Investigators found the charred beans and leaking soda bottles stored on a shelf in the back of the restaurant, near the fire’s origin.

“Root beer is the thing they’re really hot and heavy for right now,” Douglas said during a break in the investigation. “It’s the sugar that’s attracting them.”

In a nonlethal attempt to disperse the bees, investigators sprayed the swarm with at least three 20-pound carbon dioxide fire extinguishers.

“It makes it really cold for them,” Douglas said.

The carbon dioxide treatment failed to get rid of the bees, which sought refuge under the shelf holding the root beer, Douglas said. Although two or three investigators were stung, Sapp said, the investigation continued without delay.

“They certainly were a nuisance,” Sapp said.

The Columbia Fire Department has finished its investigation and has released the building back to its owner, Dick Walls.

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