Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – An electrical power generator is the cause of the Sunday fire that damaged Big Blue Café on the Plaza, leaving it and adjacent businesses and offices closed Monday.
Assistant Fire Chief Sean Campbell said the generator had been placed at the restaurant's back door, providing electricity to keep the business open. But the vibrating generator slowly "walked" its way over to a wall, where the hot exhaust eventually started a fire.
Campbell credited staffing at the nearby Arcata Fire main station just around the corner with saving the business. Quick response by personnel there, quickly augmented by personnel from other stations, kept the fire in check.
"You give this fire another minute and it's a different story," Campbell said. "Two minutes at the most and there's no question in my mind that you would have burned this to the ground last night, if the crew had not been in quarters."
He said the main station's personnel first learned of the fire by hearing yelling, then seeing smoke from the station's balcony. They were on scene within a minute.
Nine fire engines, two trucks and an excavator staffed by six chief officers and numerous firefighters eventually responded to the fire. Campbell thanked mutual aid firefighters from Rio Dell and Ferndale for their assistance. "The business owners have been awesome," he added.
Arcata Fire has long been concerned about the Plaza's east side due to antique construction not up to current fire isolation standards. Lacking proper firewalls throughout the block, a fire could quickly consume the block.
"It's the only side of the Plaza that hasn't burned to the ground," Campbell said.
Campbell said he found smoke in every business on the east side except the Plaza home furnishings store. That confirmed the lack of adequate firewalls. "You've got smoke damage in every business, and if you can smell smoke, it's not a firewall," Campbell said.
Monday morning, workers carried out files and equipment from offices above the restaurant. The building was being "red tagged" to prohibit occupancy as the fire mop-up proceeded.
UPDATE: Jayce Walker of Eco-Groovy Deals on the Plaza's east side states, via Arcata Main Street: "Eco-Groovy Deals will be OPEN during the power outage! We are charging our batteries with solar panels, will be able to run CC machine and a few lights. Will also have sidewalk sale type thing going with Halloween costumes..."
Meanwhile, the Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) was still in effect Monday morning, as PG&E worked to restore electricity. However, another weather-related PSPS was being planned for Tuesday morning.
At the Arcata Community Center, dozens took advantage of the shelter and device-charging capabilities. Stacks of coloring books, crayons and puzzle books looked relatively unused, with people there preferring conversation or rest to wordfind challenges.