PRINCETON – An early Wednesday morning blaze at Habanero’s Mexican Grill and Cantina in Princeton has left the downtown restaurant in complete shambles and firefighters saying the building is a complete loss.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the state fire marshal.
Princeton Fire Chief Chuck Woolley said the department got the call at 1:30 a.m. from a passerby claiming the South Main Street business was on fire.
“We got here and there was just real heavy smoke coming from the front of the building,” he said. “When the guys gained access they experienced heavy smoke conditions, they experienced some pretty high heat and within 20 minutes of us being at the scene the fire vented through the roof and everything just lit up.”
After flames burst through the roof and the three front windows of the second story, Woolley said everyone immediately backed out and firefighters used aerial towers on their fire trucks to maintain the fire and called for a mutual aid box, which resulted in the dispatching of several area fire departments.
“That brought us 12-13 different departments here. We had an aerial truck in the front fighting the fire. We had Spring Valley’s aerial truck in the back and then a couple other engines pumping water,” he said.
An estimated 50 firefighters were on scene from various departments including, Malden, Bureau, Wyanet, Manlius, Buda, Tiskilwa, Spring Valley, Hennepin and Putnam County.
The firefighters used a defensive strategy once they were forced out by the burst of flames.
“We used our aerial towers, because the best way to hit it was from the top,” said Woolley. “We got up on the old variety crafts store rooftop and starting spraying water that way.”
Princeton and Spring Valley ambulances were on scene, however Woolley confirmed no injuries were reported. Woolley also confirmed no one was in the building when the fire started.
Three to four apartments in two buildings to the south of Habanero’s were evacuated by officers from Princeton Police Department. Woolley confirmed about four people were evacuated and offered Red Cross assistance.
The electricity was shut off around 2 a.m. in the downtown area, to protect firefighters on the aerial ladders from the high voltage wires that run along the front and back of the restaurant. Woolley said the power was back on by 8 a.m., in time for the downtown businesses to open for the day.
All downtown businesses were open at their usual times, except neighboring businesses, which included Tanks pet store, Very Important Pet animal grooming service and Princeton Insurance Group. Woolley confirmed the neighboring businesses experienced smoke and water damage.
Most of the south streets were blocked off by the police department and Bureau County Sheriff’s Office, which created a detour for morning commuters. Main Street from the Apollo Theater to the opposite side of the courthouse square was blocked off, as well as other streets in the surrounding block.
Around 8:30 a.m., morning passerbys stopped to watch as firefighters were still out securing the smoldering building. Parts of the roof and the backside of the business were completely gutted from the fire. The front building bricks were blacken by the burn of the fire. A burning smell was still floating throughout the downtown area.
Around 10 a.m., the Princeton Fire Department moved its last fire truck at the scene from the outside of the business, while the fire marshal stood outside the front of the business snapping photos of the damage.
Woolley said the cause of the fire may not be determined until the insurance company is called in to investigate the scene.
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