Video camera captures start of 3 a.m. cafe kitchen fire

LACONIA — The fire that ravaged the kitchen of the Water Street Cafe early Wednesday morning was the second in four days days to damage buildings owned by Ted Roy, whose apartment building at 92 Gilford Avenue was badly damaged Sunday evening.
"It's been a bad week," Roy said yesterday as he surveyed the damage to the restaurant. "But, we're going to get cleaned up and back in business as soon as possible."
A security camera captured the flames coming from beneath a flat stove top at 3:06 a.m. Fire Chief Ken Erickson said that Deputy Fire Charles Roffo investigated the fire "the old-fashioned way" and determined that it began in or under the range, a finding subsequently confirmed by the video. Noting that the range had a constant pilot light, Erickson ventured that it may have malfunctioned, damaging other controls on the stove, but could not yet identify a specific cause of the fire.  
The video recorded that eight minutes after the flames appeared a fire suppression system was activated and momentarily doused the blaze, which quickly revived and flashed across the ceiling. At 3:16 a.m. the flames and heat in the kitchen disabled the camera. Within 30 seconds of the first show of flame, a second camera recorded smoke drifting than billowing through an opening into a counter and dining room area.
"It's the first time in my career "I've watched the start of a fire on video," said Erickson, who suggested that he would offer the video as a training tool to other fire departments. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Chris Shipp's shift at Central Station responded to the fire alarm at 3:10 a.m. At the same time, on hearing the call, the police turned their roof-top camera toward the adjacent restaurant and saw smoke coming from the building. Told of the report from the police by the dispatcher of Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid, Shipp upgraded the alarm to a structure fire, summoning crews from both the Weirs Beach Station and Gilford to the scene.
On reaching the scene, Shipp found flame showing through the opening to the dining room as well as at the ventilation shaft atop the building. With a hose with a 300 gallon per minute capacity, his crew confined the fire to the kitchen then extinguished it. After running a hose to protect Shipp's crew, Gilford firefighters went to the second floor to forestall fire from spreading to the roof. Firefighters from The Weirs went to the roof, removed the ventilation cap and fan, which were destroyed by flame, and contained the fire in the attic.
Erickson said that the high ceiling kept the fire in the kitchen, where intense heat decomposed plastic fixtures, equipment and containers, creating chemical vapors that fueled the flames. Instead of spreading horizontally to the dining areas on the first floor, the fire found its way to the ventilation shaft.
"It's a living animal," Erickson said, "looking for oxygen."
Erickson estimated the cost of the damage at a minimum of $100,000. He said that the department has responded to 32 fires in buildings since the year began, describing five of them, including the two this week, as "significant,."

CAPTION: The blackened, charred remains of stoves, sinks and countertops were all that remained of the kitchen of the Water Street Cafe at the corner of Water Street and Fair Street in Laconia following a fire that broke out shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)