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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 1:47 am | Fair 51º


Crews Battle Commercial Structure Fire in Santa Maria Burning Furniture Store, Steakhouse

Investigators work to determine cause in fire that burned Sergio's Furniture, Shaw's Restaurant


Santa Maria firefighters were investigating the cause of a two-alarm structure fire that signficantly damaged a popular restaurant and a furniture store Thursday morning. 

At approximately 6 a.m., personnel from the Santa Maria Fire Department and Santa Maria Police Department responded to the 700 block of South Broadway and found a fire in an alley behind Sergio's Furniture building, Fire Chief Leonard Champion said. 

Crews called a second alarm for the structure fire at 708 S. Broadway, bringing in additional resources from Santa Barbara County, SLO County CalFire, and Five Cities Fire Authority. 

Firefighters "ended up going to a defensive mode because of some partial structural collapse that was reported," Champion said.

Crews pulled out of the building and "put a lot of water on this thing" to try and keep it from getting into the adjacent Shaw's Famous Steakhouse and Tavern building, he said. 

"Unfortunately it did get in and involve Shaw's so now we're just trying to keep it within the building itself," he said at 9 a.m.

Other nearby institutions were not involved, including the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Muesum and The Pantry on Park, he said.  

A city fire marshal responded to the scene with an inspector, who are looking at security camera footage and talking to witnesses, Champion said. 

As of 9 a.m., flames were still visible from the buildings and black smoke smothered South Broadway, which was closed for several hours before reopening just before 1 p.m. 

fire investigators at scene of structure fire Click to view larger
Fire investigators and crime scene technicians conduct their work to determine the cause of a fire that significantly damaged a Santa Maria furniture store and popular restaurant on Thursday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

"There's a lot of fuel in that furniture store," Champion said. Since crews can't get hose lines inside, "it's hard to get the nooks and crannies, and it burns for a while," he said. 

During the fire fight, crews delivered thousands of gallons of water in efforts to extinguish the blaze. Two aerial master streams and multiple streams from crews on the ground spraying for three hours adds up to approximately 750,000 gallons of water, Champion estimated. 

An Olympic size swimming pool holds 660,000 gallons of water, city spokesman Mark van de Kamp added.

In all, it took fire crews more than six hours to contain the blaze and firefighters stood watch at the site as precaution.

The fire caused "significant damage" to both businesses, Champion said Thursday afternoon. 

Red notices posted on the building note that building officials consider it unsafe. 

aerial view of burned building Click to view larger
A structure fire gutted a commercial building housing a furniture store in Santa Maria Thursday.  (City of Santa Maria photo)

Due to the damage, the L-shaped building's walls will be braced for safety and the adjacent sidewalk and one northbound lane of Broadway (Highway 135) have been closed. The building owner hired security guards to monitor the building overnight and will install fencing to keep people away the site.

Champion said the blaze is one of the most significant fires in his tenure with the Santa Maria Fire Department.

In the afternoon, light smoke continued to waft from the 15,225-square-foot building as several teams of fire investigators hunted for how the blaze started.

Santa Maria police crime scene technicians also were at the site assisting fire investigators along with a specially trained dog. 

Broken plate glass windows showed charred tables, chairs and other furniture inside the building while a lone sofa pillow sat in the dirt near the Sergio's Furniture sign. 

Mid-Thursday afternoon, authorities closed one northbound lane of Broadway in front of the furniture store. Motorists slowed while passing by to gaze at the charred remains of the businesses. 

The Discovery Museum announced on its social media pages the facility would remain closed Thursday since authorities had asked people to remain out of the area. 

smoke billowing from building with fire engine Click to view larger
Firefighters continue to hose water onto a commercial building fire in Santa Maria Thursday morning. A furniture store and adjacent restaurant were both burning, Fire Chief Leonard Champion said. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The site's parking lot served as the staging area for the Fire Department's behemoth Truck 1 to allow firefighters to shoot a stream water from the top of the ladder onto the building burning behind the Discovery Museum. 

This is not first fire at that building housing Shaw's and a furniture store. Longtime residents noted a fire damaged the then-Davidson's Furniture store within the past two decades.

Shaw's also has had at least one serious kitchen fire that caused significant damage, in 2006.

City officials said the building was seismically retrofitted in 1995 and rebuilt in 1999 due to fire damage.

"I don't know how extensive that was," van de Kamp said.

Shaw's is among a number of restaurants owned by Santa Maria-based Milt Guggia Enterprises, with others including A.J. Spur's in Buellton, Templeton and Grover Beach; Pea Soup Andersen's in Buellton; The Pantry on Park, Crumbles and Pappy's 101 Diner in Santa Maria; and  Pepper Garcia's at the Santa Maria Public Airport.

Shaw's typically lands at the top of local lists of favorite restaurants while also drawing praise from afar.

In a Sunset magazine story "This Unsung California Town Has the West’s Best BBQ," on Santa Maria-style tri-tip, Shaw's was described as "A huge, old-timey elegant place, filled with shining wood, brass, and historic local barbecue photos. The whole range of Santa Maria barbecue tradition shows up here, from tri-tip to spicy oak-grilled linguiça sausage, a gift from the Portuguese who immigrated to the area in the ’30s and ’40s."

Representatives of the business could not say how long Shaw's would be closed. 

In the meantime, Shaw's gift certificates can be used at any of the other Guggia Enterprises restaurants.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Santa Maria firefighters were battling a commercial structure fire Click to view larger
Santa Maria firefighters were battling a commercial structure fire Thursday morning at 708 S. Broadway. (Santa Maria Fire Department photo)

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