SBI investigates fire

State and county officials are still unsure what started the blaze that destroyed a restaurant in Sherrills Ford that is one-half mile from the closest fire station.

Catawba County Fire Marshal Mark Pettit said Monday that his office, as well as the SBI Arson Team, is still investigating the blaze that wiped out the Pier 150 restaurant on N.C. 150 in Sherrills Ford on Saturday.

Pettit didn't comment if arson is suspected, but said it is not uncommon for a SBI Arson Team to be dispatched for a commercial fire.

"It’s not unusual for the SBI team to investigate a fire at a larger business like that,” Pettit said. “Traditionally, they will investigate a fire at a larger business like that.”

The fire was already “through the roof” when Sherrills Ford-Terrell Fire and Rescue (SFTFR) first responded to the original call that went out at 12:31 a.m. Saturday, said SFTFR Deputy Chief Justin Butler on Monday.

SFTFR’s base No. 2 and headquarters are .5 and 2.3 miles away from the Pier 150 restaurant, respectively. Despite responding minutes after the call, SFTFR Chief Keith Bost said, “first responding apparatus’ were faced with heavy fire conditions.”

When asked if a fire accelerant was found at the scene, Petit said the investigation is ongoing.

Butler reiterated that the fire was out of control when first responders arrived, but said it's hard to tell if arson is involved.

“It all depends on how quickly we get the call,” Butler said. “The fire could have been burning (unnoticeably) for a good while.”

It took five departments and about 85 firefighters to put out the blaze Saturday morning. Butler said crews were in a “defensive attack” on the fire from the get-go, using two ladder trucks from SFTFR and Denver’s fire department to help quell the flames that were “out of control.” It took personnel about two hours to control the fire.

“We didn’t send anyone inside,” Butler said. “We started fighting it from the exterior. It would have been real difficult for us to do it ourselves, especially such a large building. We have to rely on mutual aid for assistance.”

With large commercial fires, Butler said departments must be more cautious of potential dangerous scenarios.

“There was a very large propane tank right behind the building, and that was one concern we had to deal with,” Butler said. “And you never know what’s on the inside. We do pre-fire planning to try and keep everyone in the loop, but that can change from day-to-day.”

Burnt-up business

The Pier 150 restaurant, formerly Captain Pete’s, was only open for a little more than a year, but area residents said business at the seafood oyster bar was usually slow.

Retired O-N-E Editor Sylvia Ray was eating at Pier 150 on Friday night just before the building caught on fire.

“We were there from 7 p.m. to almost 9 p.m.,” Ray said. “It was a nice restaurant, but they had a very small number of customers for a summer time Friday night. It’s a very large restaurant and it had several different rooms that open to each other. It just had a few tables in use. We left at approximately 9 p.m., and the crowd never increased.”

The owner of the restaurant, Nikolas Fotinos, purchased the building in April 2010 for about $875,000. Neither Fotinos, his wife Maria nor family members could be contacted as of press time Monday.

“My friends and I have dined (there) over the years many times, and on Friday nights, you always had to stand in line to get in,” Ray said.

“We were very sorry for the present owners when on a Friday night, there was nearly no business.”