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Fire breaks out at Central Market restaurant in downtown Petaluma

  • Firefighters on the roof of Central Market in downtown Petaluma. (Kent Porter / PD)

An attic fire in a downtown Petaluma restaurant Thursday prompted a second alarm and snarled rush-hour traffic but could have been much worse, fire officials said.

Had the blaze broken out at night and initially gone unnoticed above Central Market, a popular farm-to-table restaurant in a historic brick building, it could have spread to adjacent structures in the heart of the city's historic downtown.

“This was a good stop,” Fire Chief Larry Anderson said. “If this had happened late at night, it would have been a big, big deal.”

Petaluma Central Market Fire

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The second alarm was called due to the potential need for more firefighting resources, but ultimately wasn't needed, officials said.

The entire 1918 Maclay Building was evacuated, including the restaurant, hair salon, stationery store and a gym, while two blocks of Petaluma Boulevard were closed and onlookers gathered to watch the action.

Reported at 3:56 p.m., the fire — four blocks away from Petaluma's downtown fire station — was contained at 4:42 p.m., Battalion Chief Jeff Holden said.

The fire was traced to an enclosure, called a soffit, around the restaurant's stove chimney in the attic, and may have smouldered for an hour or two before igniting, Holden said.

Persistent heating inside the soffit degraded the wood trim, lowering its ignition temperature, he said.

Petaluma's ladder truck delivered firefighters to the roof, where they cut holes to make sure they had extinguished all the flames, Holden said.

The adjacent hair salon was back in business by about 5:25 p.m., but the restaurant, which features California-Mediterranean cuisine, will be closed indefinitely.

Tony Najiola, the restaurant's owner and chef, said he did not know when he would reopen.

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