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SzeChuan House restaurant in downtown Tampa severely damaged by large fire

SzeChaun House fire Tampa
Posted at 6:18 PM, Jan 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-06 23:21:40-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Fire Rescue spent hours working a restaurant fire downtown Sunday.

Officials said the call came in around 5:44 p.m. that the SzeChuan House restaurant caught fire at 508 North Franklin Street.

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"It’s a human life everybody's life matters," said Deshun Levingston, working just a couple doors down.

He said, when a customer came in to tell him there was a fire, instinct took over.

"I immediately ran over just to see what was going on there was an individual inside. I pulled him out, peeked in just to see if other individuals were in, because I didn’t see anybody and the smoke was massive," Levingston said.

There was heavy smoke and flames coming from the back of the building when firefighters arrived. It could be seen billowing over downtown. Firefighters said one person inside was able to get out and was treated on scene for minor injury.

"The kind of fire that we fought last night is the ultimate fire that we really train for. It was one of the most difficult ones in recent times. Anytime you fight a commercial structure fire there’s a lot of things that can go wrong and it takes a very methodical approach staffing, personnel and tactics to get it write," said Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Nick LoCicero. "All of those things came together."

The fire chief said they had crews in both buildings next door to keep the flames from spreading. Eventually, the second floor and roof collapsed.

"It was really like if you had a pot and you put a lid over the pot it was still cooking within the lid and they were trying to find another way to breach walls to get through in a safer manner," said Chief LoCicero. "Unfortunately it popped through the roof before we were able to get through. But once it did that’s when the flames really became evident. So we never stopped fighting the fire. We never let up on the fire. It just changed its manifestation on how it looked and how it presented."

Taki Sassaris said he was asleep next door and woke up to the smoke coming through the walls.

"One of my coworkers was asleep just up the hallway cause we were working late last night," Sassaris said. "He’s in a wheelchair, so I got dressed real quick went down the hall started banging on his door to wake him up."

The entire block was evacuated due to the extensive smoke and flames coming from the building. It included housing for students next door.

"We’re just really thankful that everyone’s coming out of the building safe," said resident Rolando Arellano.

Tampa Fire Rescue officials give more information on Downtown Tampa restaurant fire

Madison and Twiggs, Franklin and Ashley were blocked off as firefighters battled what eventually became a 4-alarm fire. At one point, there was a collapse between the first and second floor. The fire got larger and consumed the roof, before the roof collapsed.

"It can be a daunting task for the firefighters to make sure that these things stay contained and that’s really the primary focus right now making sure it doesn’t spread to any surrounding businesses," said Jason Penny, the public information officer for Tampa Fire Rescue.

The fire was contained to one location and was under control by 10 p.m. Fire investigators on Monday said the cause of the fire is undetermined. The damage to the building and items inside of it is estimated to be $450,000.

Firefighters said two firefighters were transported to the hospital with a minor injury and expected to be okay.

The next day, the damage was extensive inside the building. Crews boarded up the windows of the restaurant, while nearby businesses closed.

"It’s a sad site that’s for sure that’s just devastation to that particular building there. But the beauty of the incident is that it didn’t spread in those fire walls and an incredible fire rescue team are what kept that from spreading," said Mayor Jane Castor, stopping by to see the damage.

CVS said it closed due to smoke damage sustained. Crews worked to clean the store and replace damaged product. It's unclear when it will reopen.

Frankie's on Franklin, next door, closed as well. Next to that, SoFresh, where Levingston works as general manager, closed today. He said the damage was minimal and they expected to open back up tomorrow.

Sassaris said he was set to open a new CBD and hemp dispensary Monday, Altitude 813, next to the restaurant. But with smoke and water damage to the building, he said he'll have to push it back a month.

"Despite everything I’m very thankful and grateful to the fire department here and all the officials," he said. "They’ve done an incredible job it could have been a lot worse. So you know you’ve got stay positive we’re alive looking to the future."

Here's a clip of the fire:

Downtown River Arts Neighborhood Association video of fire