Blaze shuts down block of downtown
Three-alarm fire on Dec. 26 destroys three business on Main Street, damages three others
VISALIA – A block of Main Street shut down last week after a three-alarm fire destroyed or damaged six downtown businesses.
Battalion Chief Danny Wristen said the Visalia Fire Department responded to a report of smoke in the area of Johnson and Main in downtown Visalia at about 1:22 a.m. on Dec. 26. Firefighters and Visalia Police officers checked the area and found smoke coming from Mama K’s Diner at 233 W. Main St.
“The response was quickly upgraded to a commercial structure fire response,” Chief Wristen said.
A fire crew entered the diner and found heavy smoke and fire conditions while a second crew went to the roof and found heavy flames coming from the attic. The fire spread quickly through the attic which was shared with two adjoining businesses in Café 225, located at 225 W. Main St., and Acapulco Jewelers, 221 W. Main St.
“When it became clear the roof was unstable, we changed to a defensive fire attack from outside the building for the safety of the firefighters,” Battalion Chief Wristen said.
The fire was upgraded to a 3rd Alarm, bringing additional fire units and personnel. At the height of the fire nine engines, three ladder trucks, five chief officers, one fire inspector and one breathing support unit were on the scene with approximately 40 firefighters with the Visalia, Tulare County, Tulare City, Farmersville, Porterville and Dinuba fire departments.
Fire crews battled the blaze with master streams from two ladder trucks and multiple hand lines for three hours before bringing the fire under control at 4:29 a.m. The fire suppression efforts were aided by police officers and volunteers, as well as employees with the City’s Building, Streets and Waste Water divisions. There were no injuries reported from the fire.
Battalion Chief Wristen said the cause of the fire is still under investigation. Due to the extensive damage and structural hazards from the roof caving in, fire officials are unable to enter into the building to investigate the cause of the fire. The fire affected three other businesses. Pacific Treasures, 219 W. Main St., had significant smoke damage while Exotica Hair Studio, 301 W. Main St., and Little Italy Restaurant, 303 W. Main St., both sustained water damage.
“At this time, we are also not able to make an estimate on monetary damage,” Battalion Chief Wristen said.
Throughout last week, a temporary fence was set up along the sidewalk in front of the businesses to keep the public clear from debris. Cleaning services worked on drying water damage and clearing smoke damage from three of the restaurants.
More than 25 employees are out of work, at least temporarily, until the two restaurants can reopen. Cindy Moccio, who has been eating at Café 225 with her husband since it opened 23 years ago, started a Go Fund Me account to raise money for the employees displaced by the fire. The site titled, “Café 225 Fire – employee fund”, had already raised over $3,000 in just two days as of press time.
“There are about 25 +/- employees that now don’t have work as their place of work just burned down,” Moccio wrote on the page. “Lets give a little help to the people who have served us such wonderful food for so many years in downtown Visalia.”
A second Go Fund Me page called “Downtown Visalia Fire Relief Fund” was started by Cat Webb of Visalia on the same day. The site states that it is “dedicated to providing relief funding for displaced workers of Mama Ks, Cafe 225, and Little Italy.” That page had raised $1,250, as of press time.