Cause of Arby’s fire determined

The cause of the two-alarm fire at Arby’s on S. Grand Avenue Friday night was determined to be electrical, according to a City of Pullman press release.

A short in the wiring in the neon sign by the main entrance to the building caused the fire, said Fire Prevention Officer Rich Dragoo in the press release.

Response vehicles Medic 31 and P.L. 31 responded to the first alarm at 9:26 p.m., and the second alarm was raised a minute later, said Glenn Johnson, Pullman Fire Department (PFD) public information officer. The PFD finished extinguishing the fire about an hour later.

The problem may have been going on for as long as a few days before finally bursting into flames, Dragoo said.

Arby’s crew member Ben Hollar said he smelled smoke for several hours before the building was evacuated – as early as noon – but because the smoke wasn’t visible, he was hesitant to take action.

“We didn’t want to be the boy who cried wolf,” Hollar said. “But I was starting to get nauseous for like an hour before we called.”

During the period when the smoke could be smelled but not seen, approximately 15-20 customers were in the restaurant, manager Tyler Wallis said, but when the building was finally evacuated just after 9:30 p.m., the only people inside were four staff members.

The crew was wise to call in the fire, Johnson said, as the situation would have been a lot worse had the fire continued to build until smoke detectors would have alerted the PFD.

“If this would have happened at 11 o’clock at night, this could have turned into a really big fire,” Johnson said.

Though fire damages and the feasibility of reopening the restaurant won’t be released until Dragoo completes his investigation, Pam Bergey, the owner of the Arby’s, hopes the building will be deemed safe for obvious reasons.

The fire was in the east wall of the building, above the main entrance, Benmoussa said, and caused damage to the rafters on that side of the structure.

The ovens and other kitchen equipment are on the opposite end of the building, Wallis said, which he thought would rule out a lot of possibilities for how the fire started.

The PFD was spread thin on Friday night, Johnson said, with one crew at Pullman High School for the football game, another crew on hand for a bonfire outside of Martin Stadium, and another responding to an alarm at the Stephenson Complex.

Because of the nature of commercial building fires, getting a crew out to the Arby’s fire became a priority when the alarm was raised, Johnson said.

The full extent of damages, including costs, is yet to be determined.

An Arby’s owner representative said an electrician would begin inspection on Saturday morning. The representative also stated that it is unknown when Arby’s will reopen.