A fire that started in the kitchen has caused extensive damage to Cafe Mexico at Market Square and forced a neighbouring private school to relocate within the complex.
There were no injuries and the restaurant was closed at the time.
The Victoria Fire Department responded to multiple 911 calls about thick black smoke pouring out of the restaurant at 1425 Store St. at 3:09 a.m. on Tuesday.
Firefighters smashed their way through the door and had the blaze in the kitchen and bar area under control at about 4 a.m.
Deputy Fire Chief Chris Royle said at the scene that fire crews did an extraordinary job in stamping out the blaze quickly and saving the building. “It was a quick knockdown by fire crews,” Royle said.
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The large horseshoe-shaped Mexican restaurant is on the ground floor of the brick-and-beam Market Square. The historic complex opens to Johnson and Store streets and Pandora Avenue, and features an outdoor courtyard. It houses retail stores, restaurants, offices, and Pacific Rim College.
The fire licked up the walls from the restaurant into the second floor of the market, causing fire, water and smoke damage to the space used by the school, which has about 250 students studying subjects such as massage therapy, herbal medicine and acupuncture. The market’s roof also was damaged.
Market Square property manager Kim Harrap said Pacific Rim College is being relocated to other spaces at the complex.
Internet and other services will be installed in those spaces today.
“We’ve got a lot of things to move and try to salvage,” said college president Todd Howard. “We’re back to partial schedule [today] and then we’re aiming for full schedule on Thursday.”
Cafe Mexico is owned by Brad and Hilda Olberg, long-standing and popular tenants of Market Square.
“It’s not a great way to start the new year, I feel for [them],” Harrap said. “The owner from Anthem Properties, myself and my team are doing everything that we can do to work with every tenant to get them up and running as quick as possible.
“But obviously, to rebuild a restaurant does take some time.”
The fire spread through a void around a ventilation duct to the floor above and the roof of the building, setting off a sprinkler on the second floor, said an incident report released by Battalion Chief Lance Mitchell.
Cafe Mexico wraps around a door leading into a basement space, last operated by The Social Club nightclub. That space is now under renovation.
The fire did not reach the restaurant’s ground-floor neighbours, Paboom showroom and Famoso Neopolitan Pizzeria. However, the fire department said those businesses have smoke damage.
Cafe Mexico is insured.
About 20 firefighters responded to the blaze. The fire department used four engine trucks, a ladder truck, a rescue truck and a command truck. An additional crew was called in to provide coverage for the rest of the city.
The cause of the fire and the amount of damage due to fire, water and smoke is under investigation.
An electrical cause has been ruled out, and cleaning agents in the kitchen are being looked at to determine whether any items could have spontaneously combusted, said fire inspector Megan Sabell.
With a file from Jeff Bell