Niceville eatery gutted
Tampico "was gone" when firefighters arrived
By WENDY VICTORA and AMBER BOLLMAN Daily News Staff Writers
NICEVILLE — Two hours after firefighters were called to Tampico Mexican Restaurant on Government Avenue, flames continued to flicker inside the charred building.
Across a side street, a man in a red baseball cap stood near a somber group of friends and family members.
"They haven’t told me anything," said Venedo Gonzalez, whose family has been running the restaurant for about three years. "It happened so quick."
The emergency call came into dispatch at about 5:25 Saturday morning, according to Niceville Fire Chief Mike Wright. When his trucks arrived moments later, it was already too late to save the building.
"It was gone when they got here," he said. "First crews got here, they had flames shooting through the roof twenty, thirty feet.
"Within a minute of them getting here, the roof collapsed," he added.
"It had already been burning for a while."
Those first firefighters were initially sent in to assess the fire but were pulled out almost immediately, Wright said.
No one was injured or required medical treatment at the scene, thanks in part to temperatures in the 60s.
"It’s a good fire for us," Wright said. "Nobody’s injured. They’re exhausted, but they’re OK."
Niceville requested mutual aid from the North Bay Fire Department, which has a ladder truck, and the Valparaiso Fire Department. Because of a glitch in communications, however, Valparaiso was not dispatched to the scene.
North Bay’s ladder truck was used extensively to hose down the interior of the restaurant after the roof caved in. Hours after firefighters arrived, dense smoke still poured from the restaurant, completely obscuring the tip of the ladder.
Wright said the blaze appeared to have started in a small preparation area adjacent to the kitchen. How it began, though, remains undetermined.
An investigator from the state Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigation was called to the scene.
"When we have something this big, this much involved, we immediately call them in," Wright said.
Investigator Steve Callahan would say only that the fire was under investigation and it would take some time to determine the cause.
Smoke from the fire was visible for miles.
It hung over State Road 85 and nearby homes for hours after the blaze was extinguished.
The building, located on the highway about two blocks from its intersection with John Sims Parkway, was completely destroyed by the fire.
The red door hung open, a charred semicircle at the top, affording a glimpse of the blackened interior.
All the building’s windows were blown out by the blaze, revealing tables and chairs that lay strewn about and overturned inside.
Only the pink stucco exterior walls were reminiscent of the original structure.
Wright estimated the damage to the structure to be in the range of $250,000.
Saturday afternoon, after fire engines and other emergency vehicles had cleared out of the restaurant’s parking lot and yellow police tape had been stretched around the building’s perimeter, residents from nearby streets strolled up to survey the damage.
Most said they had been awakened by the early-morning commotion.
"I couldn’t believe the whole roof just burned up," said Cara Maple, whose home sits just behind Tampico.
"They used the fire hydrant in my yard to soak down the trees around the building and some of the other buildings so that it wouldn’t spread."
Maple said she regularly saw the family who ran the restaurant walking to and from work.
"Every day, they walked back and forth. They had a little stroller they pushed sometimes," she said. "They seemed like nice people.
"Their friends were always hanging out there."
Maple said that firefighters fought the blaze aggressively until about 9:30 a.m., when it appeared that all the flames had been extinguished.
The charred wood continued to smoke, though, even into the evening.
Neighbors said the building had been a residential home for many years before becoming the home of Los Panchos Mexican Restaurant and then eventually Tampico.
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09-28-2003, 02:28 PM #1
Niceville Fla--Popular Restaurant Destroyed by a Fire
Last edited by captstanm1; 09-28-2003 at 02:38 PM.09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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