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Creosote Buildup Eyed as Cause of 15 Walnut Fire

A buildup of creosote and grease likely caused the fire in a ventilation pipe at 15 Walnut on Saturday afternoon.

The wood-fire oven at is out of service after a fire Saturday evening in the oven’s ventilation system.

The was called to the restaurant at 4:20 p.m. when someone at both the across the street and someone in the parking lot at the Shoppes at Hamilton Crossing where the restaurant is located – plus a officer – all spotted smoke in the area, said Hamilton Fire Department Capt. Mark Goodwin, who was the commander at the fire.

Firefighters arrived to find a fire in the ventilation system for the wood-fire pizza oven and extended two ladders – one each from the Hamilton and Wenham Fire Departments – to the roof to get at the fire.

“The pizza oven will be out of order until it is repaired,” Goodwin said on Sunday afternoon.

Goodwin said a buildup in creosote and grease in the ventilation system likely ignited, causing the fire.

Goodwin estimated the cost to repair the ventilation system at $25,000 to $30,000.

The restaurant was closed on Saturday evening and after it received the OK from the Fire Department, Board of Health and state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

Goodwin said the department did not want 15 Walnut closed any longer than it had to be and was working with the restaurant. It just wanted to make sure the restaurant was safe before it would be reopened.

There was minor smoke damage to the building, Goodwin said, and the on the second floor was also not damaged.

While water was used to cool the ventillation pipe (which is a total of 50-60 feet long), firefighters used a dry-chemical material known as Ansul to extinguish the fire, Goodwin said.

The ventilation pipe – known as a “zero-tolerance pipe – contained the fire to the pipe and did not allow it spread to the wood structure building.

“That pipe did its job,” Goodwin said. “Otherwise the whole building could have burned.”

But a mechanism that automatically shuts down the ventilation system when a fire breaks out did not operate as designed. Goodwin said that a wire that powers the shutoff likely burned through before it was shut down. The fire alarm also did not activate and the wires for it also likely burned, he said.

It was actually the second similar fire in the building in less than four years. Goodwin said about 3-1/2 years ago there was the “exact same fire at the exact same place.”

It took a crew of 12 Hamilton firefighters and four firefighters from Wenham about an hour to extinguish the fire on Saturday, and firefighters worked until about 7 p.m. to make sure the fire had not spread. A “fire watch” was also put in place until midnight, Goodwin said.

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