This article originally appeared in the Nanaimo Daily News.
Cara McKenna/Nanaimo Daily News
Ten people are left without homes and 10 are jobless after a devastating fire at Amrikko’s Indian restaurant in Departure Bay Saturday morning.
Amrikko’s, four apartments above it, and other businesses in the building at 1400 Wingrove Street have severe smoke and water damage as a result of the blaze. The building will remain vacant and businesses will be closed indefinitely as fire crews assess the scene.
Residents in the apartments escaped with only their clothes when the fire started at approximately 8:40 a.m. on Saturday. Three people were taken to hospital for minor smoke inhalation but no one was seriously injured.
Assistant Fire Chief Martin Drakeley described thick smoke billowing out of the front of the building when fire crews arrived on Saturday morning.
He said crews evacuated tenants and, after confirming everyone was out, put out the fire.
But the blaze carried on undetected in a void space of about 60 centimetres between the first and second floors for a few minutes, which crews had to pull down ceilings to extinguish.
Drakeley said people living in the apartments were given a meal and taken to a hotel on Saturday night and are now staying with friends and family.
Emergency Social Services has been helping the evacuated tenants, who were allowed to return once to gather necessities and are now blocked from entering their own apartments.
Drakeley confirmed that the tenants have insurance.
He said there were either renovations or repairs going on at the time of the fire, but he could not say exactly what as investigations are still ongoing. An electrical inspection is scheduled for Monday.
“There was some structure damage so we’ll have to determine when (building tenants) can come back, if at all,” Drakeley said.
He said the fire likely began in the centre area of Amrikko’s, which is where the kitchen is, but it is too early to confirm.
Amrikko’s owner Savita Tugnait said she and everyone else from the restaurant are “devastated” about what happened. Tugnait said it is hard to talk about because there is more than just physical loss for her business – 10 regular restaurant staff members lost their jobs with the fire.
Tugnait said she is unsure when the restaurant can reopen or the extent of renovations that need to be done because no one has been able to get into the building.
“We’re trying to see if things can move faster,” she said.
“Ten people lost their jobs and 10 people lost their homes. It’s still a mystery where (the fire) came from.”
While the uncertainty around when the restaurant can reopen continues, Amrikko’s continues to operate out of its other restaurant, Bollywood North, which is attached to the Best Western Hostel at 6450 Metral Drive.
The restaurant can still be reached at their old phone number and Amrikko’s chef Kirti Raturi has relocated to work at Bollywood North.
A post on Amrikko’s Facebook page made Saturday afternoon says, in part: “Thank you for the amazing outreach and support! The restaurant has been saved, everyone is healthy and safe.”
Tugnait said it is a difficult time, but the restaurant is grateful for all the support it is receiving.
“We are getting a lot of support from our regulars so we want to thank them,” she said.