Drying oily kitchen rags caused a pre-dawn fire in the mechanical room of the Carver Brewing Co., Durango Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Karola Hanks said Thursday.
It was a case of spontaneous combustion, which has occurred a number of times over the years in Durango eateries, Hanks said.
The kitchen rags, which absorb oils among other substances during use, were washed and put in a dryer when the restaurant closed for the night, Hanks said.
Decomposition of the oil in the saturated rags produced heat which, added to the heat of the dryer, overcame the exhaust system, Hanks said. Heat escaped from dryer vents, she said.
A tenant in one of two apartments above the restaurant, at 1022 Main Ave., smelled smoke and alerted owner Jim Carver. Carver investigated, then called authorities, Hanks said.
The lesson to be learned, Hanks said, is that detergents and washers, except for those used in the largest restaurants, don’t get out all the oils.
Restaurants have three solutions, Hanks said. They can use disposable rags, hire a commercial laundry service or install commercial washers and use commercial-strength detergent.
Hanks said that in addition to cleaning lint traps, the backs of dryers should be removed once a year to be cleared of lint that collects around the tumbler in the appliance.
Restaurant manager India Downing said some brewing grain may need to be thrown out because of smoke damage. She had no immediate idea of how much grain would be unusable.
Firefighters were paged at 3 a.m. They found no smoke at the front of the building, but discovered a small fire in the vicinity of a clothes dryer, said Durango Fire Protection District Chief Dan Noonan.
The restaurant and two apartments above the restaurant were ventilated, and the tenants were evacuated. The apartments received only light smoke.
The popular morning eatery opened for business as usual.