An overnight fire ripped through the Wind Tiki restaurant, a beloved spot for Chinese food in Webster, Massachusetts.
Crews spent more than eight hours putting out hot spots, flames and thick smoke at the restaurant but fire officials said it appears to be a total loss. They brought in an excavator to remove debris and clear a path so investigators can safely get inside.
There are a lot of memories at the restaurant, explained Rose Pelczarki, who worked there for 42 years.
"There’s a lot of regulars that came every week it was just a good place for them to come have a good time," she said.
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The fire started at 154 Thompson Road around 2 a.m. Friday. Firefighters found heavy fire coming from the roof when they arrived on scene and spent hours trying to put it out. The restaurant had closed at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, so no one was in the building.
The conditions made it difficult to put out the fire. Initially, crews attempted to get into the building but were driven back by heavy smoke and heat. Everyone was pulled out and began working from the exterior.
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“First crews tried to get inside, were pushed back, driven back by the heat and smoke, so we pulled everybody out and went to a defensive operation," Deputy Fire Chief Chris Jolda said. "At this time the State Fire Marshal’s been notified. They’re working along with Webster Fire, ourselves and Webster Police and obviously it’s still an active scene, so the investigation will be ongoing.”
Jolda said he believes the building is likely a total loss. It was built in the 1970s and has undergone construction several times.
“That’s one of the issues we’re dealing with is it’s been renovated several times," Jolda said. "As you see the angled soffit, we tried to pull that to gain access to get water in and the wall behind it goes all the way up, so that’s just basically for show, so those are the kind of things we’re running into right now, but it appears we’re making some headway on it.”
"Once we knock the heavy fire down we're going to have to get in, pull the ceilings, get access to all the void spaces, put the fire out and then the investigation team will go in," Jolda said. "This is very active still. This will be going on probably well into Friday during the day."
Firefighters struggled to reach hot spots. The smoke and morning fog limited visibility. Several surrounding fire departments responded to the scene to help, including Sutton, Leicester, Auburn, Dudley and Southbridge.
Those who live and work nearby said it was shocking to see a community staple all but destroyed in a matter of hours. Neighbor Janice Morin woke up to emergency vehicles surrounding her home and couldn’t believe her eyes.
“Just fire trucks everywhere, two big ladder trucks, smoke everywhere," Morin said. "You know, it was just like something out of another world.”
People like a similarly Wayne Kilian, who dined at the Wind Tiki for 40 years, were emotional about losing what was an institution in the area.
“We used to go like a tradition every Friday night, six or seven couples would meet up, have a couple cocktails and go home," Kilian said. "It’s sad."
Even Jolda has a personal connection to the restaurant.
“My mother worked here at one point when she was in high school, and so it’s tough," Jolda said.
Fortunately no one was hurt, but people here in Central Massachusetts are mourning the loss of a culinary and community landmark. Employees tell us the current owner is devastated.
The cause of the fie is under investigation by the state fire marshal, the Webster Fire Department and Webster Police Department. No further information was immediately available.