RICHLAND — A cigarette tossed into a flower pot is suspected to have sparked the fire that heavily damaged a popular Mexican restaurant that has been in Richland for 22 years.
Most of the fire damage in an early-morning blaze burned between the ceiling and roof, but it was too soon Thursday to know when Isla Bonita might reopen.
"It's pretty bad," owner Greg Garcia said about 10 hours after the blaze was discovered. "We don't know yet (how bad it is inside). ... We're waiting for the insurance people."
Richland fire crews were called to the restaurant at 1524 Jadwin Ave. at 2:40 a.m. for a smoke investigation, said Battalion Chief Curt Walsh.
When the first unit arrived, they saw the 4,500-square-foot building was on fire and requested backup. Four engines and two aerial ladder trucks from Richland, Kennewick and Hanford fire departments and Benton Fire District 4 helped battle the blaze.
"It was just starting to break through an overhang on the main entrance door," Walsh said. "We were able to stop it, but it entered an area between the roof and ceiling."
Flames quickly spread to about two-thirds of the building through that 4-foot space, he said.
"Those types of fires are notoriously challenging," Walsh said. "It's tough to fight it from below. It's tough to fight it from above."
Each time a firefighter punched a hole into the ceiling or roof, they found flames, he said.
Richland Fire Chief Grant Baynes said the fire crews made a good, fast attack on the fire. The roof collapsed, but firefighters did a good job of stopping it before the building burned to the ground, he said.
The fire was out by about 5 a.m. Fire crews and investigators stayed all morning to try to find the cause.
It was a busy, sleepless night for Richland firefighters Wednesday. Just two hours before the restaurant fire, crews were called to a fire at the Shoreline Village apartment complex at 2555 Duportail St.
That fire, however, quickly was contained and damage was limited to the deck, Walsh said. The cause also remains under investigation.
Baynes said it's possible both fires might have started in flower pots that had been used to put out cigarettes.
"We're seeing too many fires like this," Baynes said, urging people to be cautious.
Garcia said he thinks somebody walking by the front of the restaurant may have put a cigarette in one of the planters near the front entrance.
The fire appeared to have started by the left column at the front door, went straight up, crossed to the building and spread to the ceiling and roof, officials said.
The restaurant, which has 14 employees, closed at 10 p.m. Wednesday.