Pizzeria fire still puzzles officials

Competitor offers help to business lost in Wednesday morning blaze

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2001

Investigation continues into a predawn blaze that gutted a popular Soldotna eatery Wednesday.

Gary Hale, fire marshal at Central Emergency Services in Soldotna, reported Thursday evening that investigation at the scene has uncovered more facts but has not yet answered the central question of why a second fire broke out in the building shortly after firefighters doused a first.

"We have pretty much substantiated that we have had two separate fires at Pizza Pete's," he said.

One fire was reported about 1:30 a.m. and extinguished about 2 a.m. Emergency personnel combed the building, verified the fire was out and located its origin in a pile of rags near the washing machine at the back of the basement.

But at 6:50 a.m., less than an hour after the last people left the building, a passerby reported smoke coming from the restaurant again.

The second fire burned out the floor and destroyed the structure's interior.

Investigators are focusing on how the second fire could have ignited so soon after the building was deemed safe. Foul play is one possibility, Hale said Wednesday.

Thursday he reported more evidence narrowing down what occurred.

"The second fire was not the result of a rekindle," he said.

The investigators also have ruled out an electrical fire, because responders shut off the building's power and gas at the time of the first fire, he said.

The second fire seems to have originated at the front of the basement. The ignition source and preliminary fuel remains unknown. Samples are being tested.

"So, our investigation continues," he said.

An investigator from the specialty firm Unified Investigations is due to arrive in town today to study the incident for the insurance company.

"We do a lot of information exchange with the insurance people," Hale said.

Preliminary damage estimates put the cost of rebuilding the restaurant at about $300,000 and the value of the lost contents at somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000, he said.

Meanwhile, friends of the Charalambous family, which owns Pizza Pete's, are making plans to help them.

Rob Smithwick of the Soldotna Pizza Boys pizzeria said he has set up a Pizza Pete's Fire Fund at First National Bank.

People can donate by stopping by the bank on the Sterling Highway or by taking advantage of a special at Pizza Boys. Smithwick is offering a second pizza free to anyone who orders a large, three-topping pizza and chips in extra cash for the fire fund.

He said that although his restaurant and Pizza Pete's have been nominal competitors, they have helped each other out over the years, and he has great respect for owner Mike Charalambous.

"If that happened to me, I'd sure hope someone would do something for me," Smithwick said. "I think he does a great job. He's a hard worker. He certainly deserves help from the community."

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