Fire investigators will peel away the layers of a hot water heater during the next month or so to better understand what caused an early morning fire Wednesday at El Moro Spirits & Tavern.
The fire started at floor level behind the 100-gallon water heater that was pushed against a wall, said Karola Hanks, fire marshal with Durango Fire Protection District.
For some reason, a flame from the gas-powered water heater breached the unit and impinged the drywall, she said. During the course of 24 hours, it burned up the wall, through a firebreak and into a void between the ceiling and the roof, Hanks said.
The fire spread rapidly once in the attic. When temperatures reached 165 degrees, two sprinkler heads activated and unleashed a torrent of water that helped contain the blaze, she said.
The water heater was fairly modern and designed to be placed against a wall, Hanks said. It is possible there was a problem inside the unit or with air circulation in the room, she said. Those issues will be examined through a forensic investigation, she said. Insurance representatives for El Moro, the building owner, adjacent businesses and the maker of the water heater will observe as the unit is dissected, she said.
El Moro is expected to be closed for at least two months, but more likely three months, said Kris Oyler, chief executive of the parent company of El Moro and Steamworks Brewing Co.
“The damage could have been a lot worse,” Oyler said Friday. “We had a sprinkler system that we installed when we did the build-out, and that helped slow things for the fire department. ... It’s not as bad as what everybody anticipated, so that’s good news.”
Most of the damage was in the back of the house, where the kitchen, bathrooms and storage rooms are located.
Firefighters tore through parts of the ceiling and roof to access the attic and douse hot spots. On Friday, the lights were off, cold air came in through a back door and fire investigators walked around taking pictures.
The dining room and bar at the front of the restaurant are largely unharmed, with the exception of some water damage to the floor, Oyler said.
“It’s all in pretty good shape,” he said.
A GoFundMe site has been set up to help El Moro’s 42 employees with lost wages until insurance payments kick in, Oyler said. The fund had collected $5,270 of its $80,000 goal as of Friday afternoon.
“We’re putting as many people to work in the clean-up and construction as we can, and we’ll absorb a few of the kitchen staff at Steamworks,” he said. “We’re also providing shift meals to our El Moro team at the brewpub, but that’s not going to pay their rent or keep their homes warm as we head into winter.”