By Seth Daniel
After an initial investigation, it wasn’t the fiery buffalo wings that ignited the KFC on Squire Road Monday morning, but rather some cooking ventilation equipment or a clothes dryer.
A huge plume of dense, black smoke rose high into the sky as a two-alarm fire raged in the KFC building at 169 Squire Road around 9:28 a.m. on Monday. It burned with heavy smoke for hours, closing Squire Road most of the day and bellowing smoke into the atmosphere that could be seen for miles.
It completely burned out the fast food restaurant, with fire officials reporting a property loss of up to $500,000.
Revere Fire Chief Gene Doherty said an employee had been in the store around 5:30 a.m. doing some prep work, but hadn’t reported any sign of fire.
That employee left, and then when another employee reported for work just before 9:30 a.m., she discovered a horrendous blaze.
“As she opened the door, she fed it oxygen and it really started burning,” said the chief.
He said the fire was in the cockloft of the building – a one-foot crawl space typically located above the ceiling and under the roof, that usually houses vents, duct work and electrical wiring at most single-story fast food restaurants.
Because it started in that space, the chief said it could have been burning for some time without notice. However, he added, it could have ignited somehow after the first employee left.
“Our firefighters made an aggressive attempt at stopping the fire, but it had already been going so long that they couldn’t do much but contain it,” said the chief. “This could have started at 5:30 a.m. or this could have been something left over from last night.”
He said the department’s fire investigators are looking into the fire, along with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, but nothing currently appears suspicious.
“At this time, it doesn’t look suspicious,” he said. “If it goes higher or something, we’ll probably bring in the federal ATF because it’s a commercial building.”
He said an electrical problem has been ruled out as a cause.
At the scene, though, there weren’t any visible flames. Smoke was everywhere – inundating the restaurant and all four lanes of Squire Road. For nearly an hour into the blaze, firefighters climbed ladders into dense clouds of smoke to get water lines focused on the roof area.
At one point, Chief Doherty and Deputy Chief Robert Eydenberg ordered everyone out of the building – just about the same time a second alarm was sounded.
Doherty said everyone was ordered out because the crews were worried about the HVAC systems collapsing on those inside. At a fire in West Roxbury two years ago in a Chinese restaurant, two Boston firefighters died when the HVAC system collapsed on them while they were inside, fighting the fire.
“This one was almost exactly like that,” said Doherty. “That was one thing we had to be very aware of on this fire. How long do we expose the firefighters to the areas under the HVAC units on the roof?…At one point during the fire, we evacuated the building completely to see exactly where the roof units were located.”
Firefighters chased the fire almost all day, with the worst of it ending at around noon. However, an engine remained at the scene late into the afternoon.
Only one firefighter reported a minor injury. No one else was hurt.
The dramatic scene attracted many onlookers as many people weren’t working and had the day off to celebrate the President’s Day holiday.
Joining Revere Fire Department were departments from Chelsea, Malden, Everett, Massport and Boston. Covering Revere stations were units from Winthrop, Boston and Everett.
Doherty noted this was the first major working fire for the new ladder truck and engine pumps. All performed brilliantly in their first tour of duty, he said.
Walter Zenkin, a resident and politician of Burlington, owns the building. The Zenkin family has owned the restaurant since 1972.