A smoker fire box left “slightly ajar” sparked a fire that caused $40,000 in damage to a west Wichita catering business late Wednesday, a fire investigator said Thursday afternoon.
Wichita Fire Department Capt. Stuart Bevis said smoldering embers “came into contact with combustibles” and wood near the cooking equipment, which was under an exterior awning at Air Capital Catering, 5521 W. Kellogg.
The fire was ruled an accident, he said.
Air Capital Catering owner Sam Kuns said by phone Thursday that he regularly leaves meat in the smoker to cook overnight.
“I’ve been having issues with vandals coming out here and rummaging through things and opening up my smoker,” Kuns said. “I don’t know if that’s what happened or if there was a latch that malfunctioned.”
He shares the building with La Granja, a dance hall and bar on the southeast corner of Kellogg and Hoover, west of I-235.
Building owner John McKay said the caterer operates out of the bar’s kitchen area.
At the scene Wednesday night, Deputy Fire Chief Tammy Snow said no one was inside the catering business when the fire started shortly before 10:30 p.m. An employee from a neighboring business was eating at Denny’s, across Kellogg, when she saw smoke and fire, Snow said. She called 911.
Fire crews arrived on scene to heavy smoke and high flames rolling from the rear of the building, she said. They attacked the fire from the exterior but called out a second crew to assist.
“There was a lot of fire showing initially,” Bevis said Thursday. “… They got it under control really quickly.”
The building and its contents each sustained $20,000 in estimated damage. Some vehicles parked next to the building also suffered heat exposure, Snow said.
Kuns said he had to modify a few menus to fulfill customer orders Thursday, but he expects full operations to resume Friday.
“We’re back a-going,” he said. “… The fire never entered the building at all. It’s just on the patio area. So other than being a horrible mess, we were very fortunate.”