Spontaneous combustion sparks restaurant blaze

Owner seeking temporary location until remodeling done

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Jan. 23, 2007, 9:38 a.m.)

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A pile of just-washed kitchen towels had enough grease still soaked into their fibers that they spontaneously combusted and caused extensive fire damage at Moy's Restaurant in Elkhorn the early morning of Jan. 8.

Fire investigator David Fladten said the towels were washed on site and left in a pile on a kitchen counter. Repeated washing doesn't always get remnants of certain greases and vegetable oils out of the fibers and the pile appears to have spontaneously ignited, he said.

Owner Paul Moy said the towels were put on the counter about 9 p.m., Jan. 7, and he didn't notice anything wrong with them when he locked the doors and left the restaurant about midnight. The fire was reported about 5:15 a.m., Jan. 8.

"It takes hours and it's still causing combustion. That's kind of scary," Moy said of the towels.

Moy did not have a damage estimate from insurance adjusters and general contractors, but he plans on reopening as soon as possible.

Rebuilding the kitchen and replacing damaged carpet, drywall and electrical elements in the dining room and bar could take between six and eight months, Moy said. The kitchen area was nearly a complete loss. The rest of the building suffered smoke and water damage. Many of the tables, chairs, dishware and other items had to be thrown out.

The exterior brick structure is intact, minus windows that were broken by firefighters to vent smoke out of the building.

The nearly 115-year-old building needs a lot of updating to meet today's stricter fire codes, Elkhorn Fire Chief Rod Smith said earlier.

Work has started already as contractors took out water-damaged items, Moy said. A chain-link fence surrounds the outside of the building and remodeling work can begin in earnest once building permits and architectural plans are approved by the city.

In the meantime, Moy said he and a lot of his co-workers are getting bored with the time off. Moy has been looking hard for a vacant restaurant within 15 miles of his downtown Elkhorn location to open a temporary establishment.

"I am looking. If a restaurant goes out of business, maybe I can modify it with some chop suey stoves," Moy said.

He wants to open somewhere so he and his co-workers can get back to making a living.

Moy staffs about 26 people, many of whom have been with him more than 20 years. Moy has owned the business since 1979.

Once he re-opens, whether it's at a temporary locale or on his corner of Wisconsin and Walworth streets, the customers will return.

"I have confidence my customers will be back," Moy said. Greasy kitchen towels, however, won't be, he added.

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