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'Good catch' saves Red Knapp's from fire



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June 16, 2010 - A small, slow-burning fire that had the potential to turn into a major blaze occurred Wednesday, June 9 at Red Knapp's American Grill in downtown Oxford.

It was stopped in its tracks by an alert restaurant owner, Brett Knapp, and the skilled Oxford Fire Department.

"It was definitely a good catch because if it had gone much longer into the evening, they potentially could have lost the whole building," said Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz.

Firefighters were initially called to investigate because Knapp smelled smoke, but could not locate the source.

"I smelled smoke for a while upstairs, but I couldn't see smoke and I couldn't tell where it was coming from," he said. "The fire chief's daughter, Jordan, works for me, so I asked her to give her dad a call. I didn't want to alarm anybody. I wanted to see what he had to say about this."

Scholz said when he and some his crew investigated, there was definitely smoke, but they we unable to immediately locate the source. "(The smoke) started getting heavy, so we went ahead and evacuated the building," he said.

The incident was upgraded from an investigation to a structure fire and the whole department was immediately dispatched. But the source was still a mystery.

"We used our thermal imaging cameras and we could not locate it anywhere," Scholz said.

Firefighters finally located a smoldering fire within the floor beneath the boiler room above the restaurant's kitchen.

"It appears to have started (as a result of) heat buildup (from) the boiler being close to the floor. It actually started the wood on fire," Scholz explained. "I've never seen anything like it before. There was no electrical in the area. Absolutely no other sources of ignition there – just heat from the boiler."

The chief indicated the fire area was a circle approximately 24 to 30 inches in diameter. It had burned through two layers of plywood, the old flooring from the original building, a good 1-1˝ inches of sand and gravel and finally into the floor joists, which are the old 3x15 ones as opposed to the modern 2x12s.

"It had gone down all the way through that stuff into that floor joist," Scholz said. "It burned down into that almost 6 inches in one spot."

Judging by all the layers the fire burned through, the chief said it had obviously started long before Knapp called.

"It had been smoldering and burning for probably quite an extended period of time – longer than just that day. It had been going on for a while," Scholz said.

Fortunately, the fire was trapped between the upstairs' floor and the kitchen ceiling, so it was deprived of the oxygen that could have fueled and enlarged it.

"There was no real air to it, so it really couldn't burst into flame," Scholz said.

The chief estimated there was about $5,000 in structural damage (between the fire itself and firefighters removing flooring and ceiling to get at it) and another $5,000 in smoke damage.

The smoke damage was confined to the office area and hallway above the kitchen.

"It was all upstairs," Knapp said. "When they opened the window, you could see it. There was smoke billowing out. It still smells, but the downstairs is fine."

"There was absolutely no flame, no smoke, nothing that came down into the kitchen area," said Scholz, noting that's because the building was up to code.

The chief indicated that "nothing got into A&A," the flower shop next door.

Knapp was quite pleased with the way firefighters handled things and the limited amount of destruction they inflicted to get at the fire.

"The did a great job of containing it – taking out only what they needed," he said. "They didn't go crazy with their axes, trying to find it. They were really meticulous in how they took that apart. I was real thankful for that. That was definitely helpful for me to reopen faster."

As a result of the fire, Red Knapp's was closed the rest of Wednesday evening and all of Thursday. The restaurant reopened on Friday.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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