Early morning blaze destroys Pizza Hut on Mattis

CHAMPAIGN – Fire destroyed a Champaign restaurant early this morning, causing an estimated $1 million in damage.

Investigators are still trying to determine a cause for the fire that gutted the Pizza Hut at 409 N. Mattis Ave., according to Champaign fire spokeswoman Dena Schumacher. The fire apparently started in the southwest side of the restaurant, she said.

Deputy Chief Tim Wild said the preliminary estimate on the loss for the fire is roughly $1 million – $700,000 for the restaurant structure and $300,000 for the contents.

"Virtually everything inside looks like it's a loss," Wild said. "It's been a number of years since we've had a fire with this much fire loss."

"It's a substantial loss," Schumacher said. "Motorists driving by can still see the structure from the outside, but it's gutted inside."

Firefighters were dispatched to the fire at 3:10 a.m. today and the fire was extinguished at 5:16 a.m. today, Schumacher said.

The fire was reported by three passers-by, she said. Dispatchers received several calls.

When firefighters arrived, there were flames showing in several places and heavy smoke throughout the building, Schumacher said. Crews battled flames throughout the building and attacked the fire from all angles, she said.

When Fire Chief John Corbly arrived, he ordered that firefighters fight the fire from outside, Schumacher said.

"He did not want any people getting hurt inside," she said.

Fire crews used thermal imaging cameras that "see" heat even through walls, Schumacher said.

"One firefighter said it's like surgery," Schumacher said. "They can see where the fire really is and really get in there."

Crews chopped several holes in the roof to fight the fire from above, she said.

At the point the fire was substantially knocked down, firefighters were able to get inside and again used the thermal imaging cameras to help pinpoint hot spots in the walls, Wild said.

There were four engine companies, two ladder companies and command officers with a total of 26 fire personnel at the fire scene this morning, Wild said.

Traffic on Mattis Avenue was blocked from about 3:10 a.m. to 5:50 a.m., according to Champaign police.

There were no injuries. No one was in the restaurant at the time of the fire, Schumacher said. "The last person to leave was the manager, who left around 1:30 (a.m.)," she said.

The owner of the franchise for the store is listed to NPC International of Pittsburg, Kan., she said.

You can reach Steve Bauer at (217) 351-5318 or via e-mail at sbauer@news-gazette.com.

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