Fire closes downtown businesses

Nov. 04, 2013 @ 10:34 PM

Fire heavily damaged an apartment above a downtown pizza shop early Monday, forcing the business and two others to close. No one was hurt.

Chris Iannuzzi, deputy chief of the Durham Fire Department, said firefighters were called at 1:19 a.m. to a building at Five Points that houses three businesses, including Pizzeria Toro, and three apartments above them.

Flames were visible from the roof of the historic, two-story building on Chapel Hill Street that was recently renovated.

One apartment sustained severe fire and water damage, and Pizzeria Toro had significant water damage, Iannuzzi said.

Two other apartments in the building had moderate smoke damage, he said.

Five occupants were displaced, but four had found a place to stay Monday, Iannuzzi said. The Red Cross provided housing to the other apartment resident.

Thirty-six firefighters were on the scene for nearly five hours.

Iannuzzi said investigators have determined that the fire was accidental, originating around the exhaust duct from Pizzeria Toro's oven.

Later in the day, the area was taped off as cleanup crews got to work and firefighters tried to pin down what caused the blaze. Signs were posted at Pizzeria and two other businesses – The Cupcake Bar and Bullseye Bicycle – saying they were closed temporarily because of the fire.

Robert Clites, manager of the bike shop, said business has been good since it opened about a year ago.

“This is an historic building, and it’s brought fresh blood downtown,” he said. “It’s a real shame that the fire happened. I used to come to Durham five or six years ago, and there was no reason to come to this intersection. But now, there are bars, restaurants and retail shops. We’re definitely seeing a revitalization.”

Clites said many customers are professionals – lawyers and computer programmers, for example – who buy a bike to commute to work and make short trips downtown.

“The fire is a bummer, but property can be replaced,” Clites said

Monday’s fire was the second this year at the pizza shop. In April, fire in a kitchen ventilation duct broke out, but caused little damage and was quickly extinguished.

Firefighters battled two other blazes later Monday – both vacant houses in East Durham.

The first was reported about 3 a.m. at 2 Midgette Place, off Wake Forest Highway. The fire was confined to a bedroom and part of a roof where it vented out the window, but fire officials reported smoke damage throughout.

Nineteen firefighters were on the scene for one hour and 15 minutes.

At 6:45 a.m., firefighters were called to a house at 2615 Owens St. that had partly burned three weeks ago and sustained more damage Monday, according to fire officials.

The cause of those fires is being investigated.