A fire that started in a restaurant kitchen caused a powerful explosion in Durango's downtown tourist district Friday, injuring seven firefighters and gutting three buildings.
About 1:40 p.m., smoke and flames were reported visible on the roof of the Seasons restaurant, in the 700 block of Main Avenue, according to the Associated Press.
The fire spread to an adjoining T-shirt shop and another restaurant, said Dave Abercrombie, public information officer for the Durango Fire and Rescue Authority.
About 2:30 p.m., an explosion blew out the fronts of Seasons, Le Rendevous and Half-Price Tees, showering the street with debris, witnesses said.
One firefighter who was on the roof was blown upward and almost fell off, the Durango Herald reported.
Seven firefighters were treated at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, hospital spokesman David Bruzzese said. Four were treated and released. Three were admitted for further treatment, two of whom were listed in good condition and one in fair condition, Bruzzese said.
The fire apparently started in the kitchen of Seasons. Patrons who were eating in the restaurant said the staff told them to leave the building because the grease hoods had caught fire.
Theodore Garcia, owner of Francisco's Restaurant y Cantina, south of where the explosion occurred, said he and other employees raced down the street to lend a hand after one of his workers passed by the Seasons restaurant.
When Garcia and other reached the blaze, firefighters and other emergency crews had arrived.
"There was just flames and smoke bouncing from one building to another," he said.
As firefighters moved in to attack the blaze, Garcia and other onlookers started backing away from the fire and across the street. A short time later, Garcia and other onlookers watched the Rendezvous restaurant explode, hurling shards of glass, pieces of brick and wood projectiles around the block.
At the time of the explosion, Durango firefighters and police had not cordoned off the block to passers-by.
"We were in the process of extending the perimeter when the explosion occurred," said Capt. Micki Browning, Durango police spokeswoman.
"All around was flying glass and debris," Garcia said. "I did my best to get some of my guys moving. I was saying, 'Let's move down, let's move down!' People all around were getting hit with glass."
Garcia said he didn't believe anyone was injured by the flying debris because they hunkered down for cover as projectiles glanced off them.
Soon after the explosion, police and firefighters moved in to clear people from the block.
"On a scale of one to 10, the explosion was a seven," Garcia said. "It was very loud. My father lives two miles west of town, and he heard the explosion."
Three other fire departments joined the effort, Abercrombie said.
The fire had been contained by early evening, Browning said. Firefighters were remaining on the scene to watch for flare-ups, she said.
Browning said she had no reports of additional injuries.
The three buildings involved were "gutted," Abercrombie said, but firefighters had stopped the blaze from spreading further.
He said it would take some time before investigators could determine the cause of the explosion.
It was the second significant fire in downtown Durango in as many years.
On July 29, 2006, a fire started by an arsonist burned the Central Hotel, 975 Main Ave. Twenty-three tenants lost their homes, but no one was seriously injured.