By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico
Investigators suspect arson in a fire that destroyed a 43-year-old Clovis restaurant Wednesday morning.
K-Bob’s Steakhouse on Mabry Drive was lost to the blaze by the time firefighters received a call, officials said. No one was injured.
“Suffice it to say we suspect arson and we’re investigating it as an arson,” Clovis Police Capt. Patrick Whitney said.
Just after midnight, a 911 caller reported seeing the door of the restaurant busted open and heavy smoke, records show.
Whitney said beyond evidence of a break-in, investigators found other indications of arson at the scene.
Clovis Fire Chief Ray Westerman said the department dispatched seven units and nearly 20 personnel to the restaurant and tried to make entry to the building.
“Crews found the progression of the fire too extensive and backed out and went into defensive mode,” he said.
Firefighters were able to save an east banquet hall attached to the restaurant, but the rest of the structure was lost, he said.
“The fire obviously had a considerable head start before we were notified,” Westerman said.
What happened is still unclear.
“We don’t know the time frame or cause for the progression of the fire so it will take some time to determine that,” Westerman.
Crews worked through the night to extinguish the blaze and by morning were replaced with investigators looking to understand what happened.
Whitney said police and fire investigators were collaborating.
Westerman said the restaurant was unoccupied at the time of the fire and there were no injuries among responders.
Ed Tinsley, owner of K-Bob’s franchisor Tinsley Hospitality Group LLC, said he was saddened by the fire and expressed concern for franchisees Candi Sandoval and her family, as well as employees.
Tinsley said it was too soon to know whether a rebuild would be necessary or the possible timing of it.
“However, we want to assure the community and the K-Bob’s employees that we are committed to do everything feasibly possible to be back in business and continue to be a part of the Curry County community,” he said.
K-Bob’s is the first significant commercial structure fire in the area in years, Westerman said.
A fire gutted Freeman’s Bridal Shop on Main Street on New Year’s Day 2006, and, in July 2004, China Star on Main Street was destroyed by fire.
Wednesday’s fire is the second suspected arson this week.
Whitney said a Monday fire at a Fifth and Pile streets apartment complex is also being investigated, though there is no evidence the two fires are connected.
Additionally in the last couple of weeks, investigators have been looking into an ongoing arson problem at Town Talk Trailer Park in north Clovis.
Whitney said as many as three unoccupied trailers have been burned.
However, he said nothing indicates a connection between the apartment, trailer and restaurant fires.
K-Bob’s first opened in Clovis in 1966 and grew into a chain that operates in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. The Clovis restaurant was the first of the chain that now encompasses locations in 16 towns, according to the franchise’s Web site.