Marshal: Catch 54 fire caused by heat exposure from stove

On Aug. 2, Catch 54 restaurant, one of seven SoDel Concepts restaurants on the Delaware coast, suffered $1 million in damages due to a fire, which the Delaware State Fire Marshal’s Office has now determined resulted from the “extended exposure of the structure’s framing to the heat of a cooking appliance.”

The official report was released on Aug. 12, less than two weeks after the fire, which originated on the north side of the structure.

“First, we have to determine an area of origin,” explained Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Randall Lee. “Then, once we determine where that fire originated, then we start looking for heat sources in there that could have possibly caused the fire to start.”

Lee noted that kitchen fires are generally the quickest and easiest fires to determine a cause; however, there are always exceptions.

“In this case, it takes longer — there are fire trucks around, they’re flowing water, there’s just a lot going on, and we don’t want to get in their way. We have to keep an eye on the building’s structure itself, to see if it’s safe to be in there for us to look around and try to determine where the fire started.”

He added that he and another associate had looked at the building on the night of the fire, secured it and then returned the following day to look at it in the daylight.

Private investigators were also hired by the insurance company to look into the fire – not uncommon when such significant damage is involved.

“That’s why it was almost a week before we made a final decision. We’ll just keep an investigation open until everyone who wants to look at it has looked at it, be it from the public side, which is what we are, or the private side, which is hired by the insurance companies.”

Lee said that the extended heat exposure was caused by a stove in the kitchen, which could have been avoided.

“The one way this could’ve been avoided – this piece of appliance was pushed up against the wall, and on that wall there are certain materials that they have to put around there by code to protect the wall,” he said. “That restaurant has been there for several years. I would say that this has been happening over a period of years. If they had had a separation between that appliance and the wall, they probably wouldn’t have had this issue. It appeared that the appliance operated properly.”

Matt Haley, who owned the building and the restaurant, said that he was proud of his employees’ actions during the night of the fire, for helping get everyone out safely.

“It was amazing how professional our staff acted in the situation to monitor what was happening — helping people in and out of the building, getting everybody safe.”

Haley said he does plan to rebuild the bayside restaurant in the fall and reopen by next spring.

“Everyone got out safely, and the restaurant can be rebuilt. It’s good that everybody got out uninjured,” added Lee.