A three-alarm fire, ignited by hot oil in a restaurant kitchen, destroyed that business and caused major damage to at least a handful of others in a small, two-story shopping center in Northwest Baltimore yesterday. Fire investigators are looking into whether an extinguishing system in the kitchen failed.
No one was hurt in the blaze at the China Pearl restaurant in the 4000 block of Fallstaff Road near Reisterstown Road, said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman.
Torres said the fire started about 3: 15 p.m. in the restaurant's deep fryer as a cook was preparing a dish. He said flames ran up the kitchen's walls, engulfed much of the second floor, which houses numerous offices, and then shot through the roof, shooting gray smoke into the air.
Fire crews arrived quickly and had the blaze under control in about 30 minutes, Torres said.
He said a fire extinguisher made for dousing flames from the fryer appears to have malfunctioned.
"We're investigating what went wrong," Torres said. "Whether the protection system worked properly we don't know for sure right now, but apparently it didn't work."
Torres couldn't provide a damage estimate yesterday but said much of the second floor was destroyed while a handful of establishments on the ground level, including two other restaurants, were badly damaged, mostly from smoke and water.
Only three businesses were open at the time of the blaze and about a dozen people were in the building, including Stan Cooper, 45, of Baltimore.
"I was just sitting there waiting for my food inside the China Pearl," said Cooper, "then all of a sudden we heard the cook in the back start to shriek. At first I thought maybe she was getting robbed, but then, just like that, I saw smoke pouring through the place. We all got out of there quick. It was pretty scary."
Cooper and another man raced to Dominic's Restaurant next door, warned the few people there of the fire and called for help.
Inside Dominic's was Doneene Baggish, 29, who said she had just shown the restaurant owner a winning lottery ticket.
"I was so scared I left my ticket in there on the counter," she said. "I'd just won 200 bucks, now that ticket looks like it may be up in smoke. Unbelievable."
While Baggish laughed at her fate, two owners of a business in the building watched firefighters in stunned, painful disbelief.
"Looks like we retired today. We're probably out of business," said Irma Davidson, owner of Just About Perfect for Him, a clothing store.
Her husband, Saul Davidson, said the clothes were ruined by smoke. "It's not like you can take those clothes to the dry cleaners."
Pub Date: 9/27/99