Archive for Thursday, May 10, 2007

Restaurant owner wants to rebuild

Sunday fire causes estimated $750,000 damage to Western Sizzlin

May 10, 2007, 12:00 a.m.

Updated: May 10, 2007, 10:58 a.m.

Western Sizzlin owner Mohamed Siraj was about to head out the door Sunday evening when he received a frantic phone call from Ken Duy, the restaurant manager.

"Fire! Fire! I've got to go," Siraj recalled Duy shouting into the phone before hanging up.

With that, Siraj's travel plans changed. Originally heading to Shawnee Mission Medical Center to visit his mother in the hospital, Siraj changed course and headed to his restaurant, 5041 S. Fourth St. in Leavenworth. When he arrived, flames already where shooting into the air, but much to his relief the restaurant's staff and patrons - about 35 people were at the restaurant at the time of the fire - were safely outside in the parking lot.

"They did an excellent job getting everyone out of the restaurant in the few minutes they had," Siraj said of Duy and the staff. "I understand the fire started in the attic, and when they saw the smoke coming down, that's when Ken called 911, called me and immediately got people out of the building."

Leavenworth Fire Department Capt. Mark Nietzke said the call came in about 6:45 p.m. Upon arriving on the scene, Nietzke met with Duy. After learning that everybody had left the building safely, firefighters entered through the rear of the building.

Nietzke said there was no smoke in the restaurant area, so firefighters entered the attic area where the fire was located.

After about 10 minutes, the fire broke through the roof and firefighters were forced to retreat for safety reasons.

Shortly thereafter, the light drizzle that was falling when the firefighters arrived turned to a downpour. Firefighters were forced to stop using two aerial trucks to fight the fire on the roof because lightning was in the area.

As the blaze continued, parts of the roof collapsed. Nietzke said it took about three hours for the Leavenworth Fire Department and members of Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1 to extinguish the fire. A truck remained on the scene overnight to monitor remaining hot spots and prevent reignition, Nietzke said.

Investigators on Wednesday determined that the cause of the fire was an electrical malfunction, said Assistant Chief Mark DeMaranville.

DeMaranville said the total damage to the building structure was about $600,000. He said an additional $150,000 in damage was done to the building's contents, bringing the total loss to $750,000, although he said that estimate may be on the conservative side.

The previous operator of two Western Sizzlin restaurants in Branson, Mo., Siraj purchased the Leavenworth branch in February of 2001 and has operated it since then with his family. They had 22 employees at the time of the fire.

Although saddened by the loss, Siraj said he plans to rebuild his restaurant.

"I think it's kind of early, but my gut feeling is that we will be able to build and get back on our feet," he said. "That's definitely what the family wants to do at the present time. That's our intention."

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