Fat Badgers Pizzeria fire report

DEBBIE JAMIESON
Last updated 10:57 11/09/2013

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A litany of errors meant that once fire broke out in the Fat Badgers Pizzeria kitchen little could prevent it consuming the restaurant and the upstairs World Bar in central Queenstown in May.

The fire started with an incorrectly filled deep fat fryer and once it was underway staff had little chance of putting it out with no extinguishers in the immediate vicinity and once an extinguisher was found, it was the wrong type for the fire and used incorrectly.

A hole, thought to be left by builders in a fume extraction system allowed it to escape into World Bar.

Fire risk management officer Stu Ide found the cause of the fire was accidental but said it was one in a long list of vat fires in the region that could have either been prevented or extinguished with the correct equipment, used properly.

Similar problems were behind the fire that destroyed the kitchen at Fitzpatrick's Irish Pub in Wanaka in June and the fire that destroyed Alexandra's Pie Cart last year.

Vat fires are now the leading cause of commercial kitchen fires in Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago and with hundreds of vats in the region Mr Ide wants restaurant owners to heed the safety message and review their extinguishers and staff training in their use.

"All the (vat) fires I've been involved with were accidental fires. None have been deliberately lit. What is the concern is that people are trying to put the fire out with a lack of how to do it and the incorrect fire extinguisher to do it."

In the case of Fat Badgers the chef had not put enough cooking oil into the vat to cover thermostats. An insurance company examination found about 25 litres of oil was necessary to cover the thermostats. the chef had used about 15 litres.

"He did not realise the thermostats were not covered so there was no temperature control device. The oil just got hotter and hotter until it got to its auto-ignition temperature, " Mr Ide said.

Another staff member was in the restaurant when she heard the chef call her name. She went through to the kitchen and saw the vat on fire.

No extinguishers were available in the kitchen as two dry powder extinguishers had been emptied three days earlier on a small fire in a pizza oven. They had been sent away to be replaced.

The staff member went upstairs to World Bar and grabbed another extinguisher. She gave the fire a "quick squirt" which appeared to aggravate it. She then went back upstairs to grab a fire blanket but the flames kept pushing it away. The smoke became too much and she left the area.

It spread quickly upstairs via a fume extraction system which had been compromised by pipe work inside the building.

At the height of the blaze six pump appliances, including an aerial appliance from Invercargill, were committed along with a Command Unit from Alexandra and support vehicles from neighbouring brigades.

The spectacular blaze saw central Queenstown blocked off as hundreds of people watched on.

Mr Ide said the fire could have been extinguished with the right equipment used quickly and correctly.

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"Because they didn't have an extinguisher where the fire occurred they lost valuable time. Meanwhile the heat was getting hotter."

Also the use of a "quick squirt" was incorrect. "She needed to give it the whole nine yards."

Mr Ide said that of the six classes of fire extinguisher, the wet chemical extinguisher was the only/best for vat fires. It put a crust over the fire excluding any oxygen.

"You have to have that protective equipment there the same as you have to have cleaners." And training was essential. "If you don't know how to use that extinguisher and you're standing in the wrong place you're likely to make the situation worse."

Vat fires:

September 2009: Bannockburn Pub

October 2010: Thai Crom Restaurant, Cromwell

December 2010: Creek Cafe, Wanaka

May 2012: Pie Cart, Alexandra

May 2013: Fat Badger Pizzeria, Queenstown

June 2013: Fitzpatrick's Irish Pub, Wanaka

- The Mirror

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