A fire at Rasoi India House Restaurant on Sunday afternoon is the second in Columbia this month caused by cooking. It caused an estimated $20,000 in damage and has shut the restaurant for now.
A sign saying “closed for remodeling, three to four days” hangs on the front door of the Broadway restaurant.
Customers were the first to notice the smoke coming from the kitchen, said Columbia Fire Battalion Chief Steven Sapp.
Sapp said the fire began when an ember got into a flue and settled into the grease that had built up inside.
“There’s a constant supply of air there in the exhaust, so it spread the fire,” said Sapp, who visited the fire scene Sunday afternoon and again Monday.
Firefighters arrived after several emergency calls, but the management had already put out the fire with a dry chemical extinguisher.
According to city fire codes, the oven should have extinguished it automatically.
“We went back through the building with the management and talked about what they need to change,” Sapp said. “They know they have issues with the hood and flue, with grease buildup. But they need an automatic extinguishing system.”
Although the kitchen equipment could not have put out the fire, Sapp said the management “did the right thing” by calmly evacuating patrons and extinguishing the fire on their own. The fire burned out within five minutes.
There were no injuries.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Data Center, about 65 percent of restaurant fires are a result of cooking incidents. Thirty-five percent of these incidents end up like that at India House — contained and put out by fire extinguishers to minimize damage. Statistics on fires in Columbia caused by cooking were not available Monday afternoon.
However, the incident was the second cooking fire for the month in Columbia. A house fire May 9 on the northeast side of town began when an occupant of the house forgot she had food on the stove.
Last month, unattended oil ignited and caused more than $1.25 million in damage at the Ashwood Apartments.
Cooking is the second-highest cause of residential fires, according to the National Agriculture Safety Database.
“It all has to do with either attention or maintenance,” Sapp said. “Sometimes people leave things cooking and just don’t pay attention at home. That’s not the case with restaurants. It’s usually a maintenance issue, instead, like having the extinguishing system maintained or checking the hood system annually.”
Sapp said that it is obviously important to have an adequate cleaning system, but regulations and codes cannot always help with this.
“The term ‘cleaning system’ can’t really be defined because there are different foods for different restaurants,” Sapp said.
In preparing traditional Indian dishes, India House uses a traditional tandoor oven, cooking over hot charcoal and wood. There are no federal standards for the operation of tandoor ovens in the U.S.
“It’s a critical appliance for cooking meats and breads, and it’s
hard to have the restaurant without it,” Sapp said. “So we went over the placement of the oven to avoid future incidents.”