Fire chief: Salty Nut Cafe fire could be arson

Published: Jan. 6, 2012 at 12:11 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 16, 2012 at 12:11 PM EST
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(Source: Columbia Fire Department)
(Source: Columbia Fire Department)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Columbia fire investigators say they are seeking a "person of interest" in connection with an early morning fire that damaged a popular Five Points restaurant.

Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins says the fire that scorched the Salty Nut Cafe is believed to be an arson.

Jenkins said at a news conference that surveillance footage shows that person of interest around 4:00am.

The early morning blaze caused very heavy damage to the interior of the building on Greene St., but the general manager Phil Hopewell believes the structure is strong enough to rebuild.

Around 4:30 a.m. Friday, firefighters were called to the Salty Nut Cafe on Greene St. When they arrived, heavy smoke was pouring out the top of the restaurant.

Greene St. was closed for several hours while firefighters worked to get the fire under control.

Because the restaurant does not have a sprinkler system, the building sustained very heavy damage, according to Columbia-Richland Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins. The building was built in the 1930's and was not required to have a sprinkler system.

Firefighters are reviewing surveillance video to try and determine an exact cause, but they say the fire is believed to have started in the kitchen.  Jenkins says the last known person was inside the restaurant was around 2 a.m. Friday.

Fire investigators say the fire caused several hundred thousand dollars in damage.

A timeline for the restaurant to reopen has not yet been determined, but Hopewell says they hope to get the repairs done and get the restaurant back open as soon as possible.

The fire remains under investigation by the Fire Marshal's Office and SLED.

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