At about 3:15 Thursday afternoon, a blaze erupted at Ish and Chips restaurant and a vacant variety store near the corner of King and Dupont in Uptown Waterloo. According to Waterloo fire chief Lyle Quan, no one was injured during the blaze and they all escaped safely.
“When crews arrived on scene, they saw visible smoke, and it was pretty heavy at the time. The platoon chief decided to do what we call a defensive attack while he was trying to assess the situation,” he explained.
As of 5:30, the building was still burning and crews were still fighting the fire. Smoke from the blaze engulfed much of King Street, but Quan stated that it didn’t impose too big of a threat since the fire doesn’t appear to be coming from hazardous chemicals. Police directed people to move back for safety reasons.
“[The fire] is pretty heavily involved, the roof is starting to come down. And at this point, it’s really a defensive procedure. We’re just taking care of the exposures, making sure the fire doesn’t touch onto to the other buildings and controlling it as best as we can,” said Quan around 5:30 p.m.
“It’s still burning and it’s probably going to be continuing burning for quite awhile,” he added.
Patricia Rembiszawska, one of the two employees working at Ish and Chips at the time of the fire, said she had to react quickly when she was notified there was fire.
“We were just working, having our normal day as always, and I was sitting in the back office and all of sudden it smelled like vapor was burning. At first I thought it was something from the restaurant,” she explained, noting that someone came into the restaurant shortly after and yelled there was a fire next door.
“I was just freaking out, I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I didn’t even think about grabbing my things,” she added.
Rembiszawska knew there were people living in apartments above the restaurant and acted quickly to alert them.
“There were two people living upstairs, I was trying to bang on her door and no one was responding and no one was coming out so I was kind of worried that something happened,” she explained. “Finally she came out.”
There’s some speculation that the fire didn’t start at Ish and Chips, but at the vacant variety store next door. Mom’s tattoo shop and the building with the clock tower to the left of Ish and Chips, according to Quan, appear to be unharmed.
Four fire crews and approximately 16-20 staff were on scene battling the fire. Waves of smoke traveled down King Street and the surrounding areas, often to many pedestrians who were watching. Customers on the patio at Chainsaw, which is also on the corner of King and Dupont, had to go inside when the smoke got too heavy.
According to Quan, the Waterloo Buskers Festival, which was scheduled to kick off on King Street between Erb and William Streets, will go ahead as planned.
“At this time, I really have no idea what the cause is. The employees that were in Ish and Chips said that they smelled some smoke and they noticed a flame which seemed to be coming from the variety store area. But we haven’t confirmed that any time,” added Quan.
Aid stations and water were set up near the trucks to assist the crew. Quan noted that the addition of hot weather can wear the crew out quickly.
Ish and Chips has been in Waterloo since July 2010, and according to Rembiszawska, it doesn’t look like it’s coming back anytime soon.
“We have to start over probably,” she said.
At about 9:45 p.m., the Ish and Chips Twitter account posted: “Thank you everyone for the warm thoughts. We’re completely devastated though thankful everyone including tenants from upstairs are safe!”
According to a release from the Waterloo fire department, the cost of the damage is an estimated $500,000.
As of 9:00 p.m., the blaze had been put out, however fire crews remained on site battling what the release called “hot spots”. The crews will remain on the scene until late Thursday night.
The release also confirmed that all employees and residents in the building at the time of the fire made it out safely, and that there have been no firefighter injuries.
A fire investigator arrived on scene Thursday night and will continue the investigation Friday.
Look for more coverage on this developing story online, as well as in our Sept. 2 issue.