Fire marshal: No criminal activity in Larkburger fire |

Fire marshal: No criminal activity in Larkburger fire

Fire detection and suppression system in the kitchen failed to activate, report states

Smoke pours out of the Larkburger in Edwards on the evening of July 12, 2019. The restaurant has been closed since. A new Benderz Burgers is expected to open around Dec. 1 in the space.
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There is nothing suspicious about the July 12 kitchen fire at the Edwards’ Larkburger location that damaged two other businesses, according to a report from the fire marshal for the Eagle River Fire Protection District, which fought the blaze.

Michael Woodworth of the district wrote in his eight-page report following his investigation that: “Based on education, experience, and witness statements, there was no reason to suspect any criminal activity at the time of the initial investigation.”

No one was injured in the blaze, which started at a grill in the kitchen and spread through the ceiling into the attic space and into the structure rafters. Fire engines were on the scene within minutes, and, according to the report, firefighters extinguished the blaze using an ABC-type fire extinguisher — which can suppress grease fires — followed by a pressurized water/foam extinguisher. Firefighters also used a hose.

What happened

According to the report, Larkburger staffers had left the building when the fire started and activated a pull fire alarm that notified the 911 system.

Woodworth noted in his report that the fire originated on a grill that hadn’t been working properly on a cooking sheet that was being used as a griddle. The Ansul system — which detects and suppresses fires in commercial kitchens — did not activate as designed, according to the report.

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Serin Nelson, the manager at the restaurant, told Woodworth that she was prepping food in the kitchen when the fire started on a grill that hadn’t been working correctly the previous week. Earlier that day, some employees had the grill pulled out and upside down trying to fix it, she said. She told Woodworth that the employees were not qualified to work on the grill, which had a couple of knobs that were not attached. Nelson stated that fat from hamburgers on the grill flared up and started the fire.

Nelson told Woodworth that she had notified the owner of the restaurant, Vanessa Jackson, a week prior to the fire about the grill issues. Nelson also stated that she did not know where the fire extinguishers were located and did not use one and that employees poured salt onto the grease fire to try to extinguish it. She also stated in the report that she did not know what the manual Ansul system pull station was, nor where the manual Ansul pull station was located.

Brent Redden, the on-duty lieutenant for the first engine at the scene, told Woodworth that when the fire was controlled in the kitchen, the firefighters began to pull ceiling tiles to check if the fire had spread into the ceiling. After that, they we were reassigned and went to the roof for roof operations.

The aftermath

Along with damage to Larkburger, the businesses on either side of the restaurant suffered serious smoke damage. There was also extensive damage to the building’s HVAC systems.

The Vail Valley Animal Hospital’s Edwards location shut down and Dr. Charlie Meynier moved his entire staff of more than 20, which includes four doctors, into the 1,500-foot EagleVail location, where they’ve been for the duration of the summer.

Meynier, when reached earlier this month, was hopeful that the staff from the Edwards location would be able to go back to the building sooner than later, but for now, everyone is still in EagleVail.

“We really feel like we are a big part of the community and we’re working hard against a lot of odds stacked against us to provide the same level of care.”

Frank Mitchell, the owner of Moontime Cyclery, literally held a fire sale following the blaze, offering deep discounts on everything to clear out the inventory in his Edwards space so that repair work can begin.  Mitchell opened a second location in Eagle this year, which helped soften the blow from the fire damaging his Edwards shop.

Meynier said earlier this month that the lost revenue from the fire is “$180,000 right now and counting.” He’s worried less about the money than making sure he can keep his staff together. 

“It’s been a challenge for our employees,” he said. “They depend on these hours to live in this valley. I can’t cut their hours.”

Mitchell said it’s all but impossible for him to put a dollar value on the losses, other than it just keeps adding up every day. 

“My potential missed new customers is a number that I can’t put a value on,” he said. “Like all of the people that walked up to my door over the last three weeks and pulled on it when it was locked, I may never see that person again.” 

Meynier and Mitchell both said they’re confident they will be made whole again when the insurance kicks in, but so far they haven’t seen any money. 

“It’s all going to work out in the end, but it’s just a giant nightmare to deal with right now,” Mitchell said. “The best way I can describe it is if you were to buy yourself a hamburger at Larkburger and put it on the dashboard in front of your car and let it sit there for three or four days in the sun, that’s what the inside of my store smells like. And it’s not going to go away until they replace it.”

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