Gathered around what was once the area’s go-to place for chicken wings and beers, Dunbar residents mourned the loss of the Cold Spot, which burned down early Saturday.
“I just can’t believe it. We were here last night,” Mindy Walker, a Dunbar resident, said at the site Saturday morning.
The fire was reported to 911 at 3:37 a.m. and it took more than four hours for crews to completely extinguish it. After the smoke cleared, the business was declared a total loss, with the building’s materials torn down to a pile of charred debris. No one was in the building at the time of the fire and no one was injured.
“By the time I got there, there was all the flames, and I sat and watched my work of 40 years go up in two hours,” said Bill Smeedy, owner of the Cold Spot. “Forty years of building, piece by piece. It’s devastating.”
Smeedy, choking up with emotion over the phone, said he wanted to thank his employees, the firefighters and “the best customers anybody can have.
“Hopefully, I close my eyes and open them again and it turns out it’s a nightmare,” he said. “They all want me to build back, and I appreciate that, but I really got the wind knocked out of me.”
He said he drove by the remains of his restaurant three or four times Saturday afternoon in disbelief, hoping to see a different scene.
Fire crews from Dunbar, Charleston and South Charleston responded to the blaze, said C.W. Sigman, Kanawha County’s deputy emergency manager and fire coordinator. The first responders, from the Dunbar Fire Department, were at the scene two minutes after the 911 call went in, Dunbar Fire Capt. Zac McGinnis said.
In total, 21 firefighters, four engines and two ladder trucks fought the blaze, McGinnis said.
Sigman said the Cold Spot’s last employee was locking up and leaving the property early Saturday when he noticed smoke and called 911. Flames and heavy smoke were already visible outside the building when the first responders arrived.
“Once the other units got on scene a minute after [the first responders], they tried to do an initial interior attack,” McGinnis said. “That’s when we put on the air packs and try to go into the building and put it out on the inside. The guys made it in about 20 feet, and the heat and the fire was just so heavy and thick. The decision was made to go defensive, with outside spraying.”
At about 7 a.m., after more than three hours of fighting the fire, Kanawha County called Rodney Loftis & Son, a contractor they often work with, to tear down the building’s remaining walls and roof materials so that crews could get to hot spots where the hoses weren’t reaching, Sigman said.
Loftis used a large excavator to knock down what remained of the building.
“Once it burns through the roof like that, the roof falls in. Once that falls in, things under it continue to burn and it’s hard to get the water to put it out,” McGinnis said. “We had it under control before the excavator got there, but once we got that there, then it became really easy. Honestly, we still expected to be there by 1 to 2 p.m. today.”
Because the structure fire was so large, McGinnis said a member of the Dunbar Fire Department visited the site hourly throughout Saturday to check for signs of smoke.
“This is probably one of the bigger ones I’ve had here in my career,” said McGinnis, who has been a firefighter for more than 10 years.
McGinnis warned that the property is extremely dangerous to the public. The building got several additions over the years and now all of those charred building materials are sitting on the structure’s basement.
“All of the weight of the water and debris is probably stressing the top of the basement,” he said. “It could collapse.”
Yellow tape surrounds the perimeter of the site, and McGinnis warned that no one should venture onto the property.
The Cold Spot was located at the corner of the three-way intersection of Washington Street West, 7th Avenue and Dunbar Avenue.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Sigman said the concentration of the fire seemed to be in the kitchen area. The Dunbar Fire Department will lead the investigation, although it might call in the state fire marshal, Sigman said.
As of late Saturday afternoon, the fire marshal, who investigates suspicious fires, had not been called, said Lawrence Messina, a spokesman for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
“It’s a bad fire. It’s a shame they couldn’t save it,” Sigman said. “Nobody got hurt. You’ve got to be thankful for that.”
Roger Mullins, a Charleston resident, shared Sigman’s sentiment after viewing the building’s remains.
“My thoughts about it was, ‘Did anybody get hurt?’ I’m glad no lives were taken and that no one was burned bad.”
The Cold Spot, which also has locations in Cross Lanes and Glen Jean, had between 30 and 35 employees in Dunbar, Smeedy said.
“We hope he rebuilds. The community can’t afford to lose anything else,” McGinnis said. “Everyone knows the Cold Spot. It’s always crowded up there.”
Dunbar firefighter Josh Bowers said, “He’ll have to rebuild it back or else he’ll have a bunch of unhappy customers.”
Randy Meador owns the commercial property next to the Cold Spot and was picking up debris from his property Saturday morning. He said he thinks the Cold Spot will rebuild. “He’s got too much business to not.”
Smeedy wasn’t sure Saturday evening, but he told people to check the restaurant’s Facebook page for updates.
“My children want to build back, but we’ll see,” he said. “Now, there’s nothing left but the memories.”
Staff writer David Gutman contributed to this report.
Reach Anna Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100.