Although spontaneous combustion of greasy kitchen rags has often been cited as the cause of the June 30, 2011 fire at the Capitol Hill Apartments and the Underground Kitchen restaurant in downtown Madison, as yet there has been no official report on the cause of the fire from the Madison Fire Department.
"Our policy is not to release [an official report] if they don't have a definitive cause," says Madison Fire Department spokesperson Lori Wirth. And while the fire investigators are willing to allow that greasy rags may have started the fire, they cannot state that was definitively the cause. "They can't eliminate that it's the one thing they can't eliminate," says Wirth.
These kinds of combustion fires do occur, notes Wirth, if, say, a rag that was "soiled and greasy" is not thoroughly cleaned and ends up in a drier; if they get hot they can ignite. However, investigators are "not calling it that." While investigators don't have an alternative, nor can they prove that was conclusively the cause. "This cannot meet the legal burden" of holding up in a court of law, says Wirth.
Doesn't this then leave the idea of a report in permanent limbo? Well, a report will be filed, Wirth assures, "probably by the end of the month."
The building, at the corner of East Mifflin and Webster Streets, is not on the historic register but it is "a classic," says owner Duane Hendrickson. He does not have a figure yet from his insurance company as to what they will pay out, but Hendrickson has shown the building to a couple of prospective buyers. Their thinking has been "along the lines of taking it down," says Hendrickson, noting that since June, the roofless building has been sitting "open to the weather." Hendrickson plans to "sell it, as is, to somebody" after the insurance settlement is sorted out.
Underground Kitchen, meanwhile, has begun scouting alternative locations to remount the restaurant, although no solid prospective sites have yet been identified.