No, it wasn’t a preponderance of red-hot Tabasco sauce slathered on an errant Slamburger — the fire that destroyed the Carmichael Denny’s was started by firefighters.
The first flames licked their way through the vacant restaurant just past 11 p.m. Wednesday, spewing the heat of a thousand spicy sriracha burgers as Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District personnel climbed onto the roof and began their initial attack.
Firefighters had been performing training drills all week in anticipation of the big burn at the Denny’s at Fair Oaks and Manzanita, which closed earlier this year.
The defensive drills were meant to provide firefighters an opportunity to work with commercial fires in a controlled environment, Metro Fire spokesman Capt. Chris Vestal said, which is hard to come by.
“For us to be able to do this in a controlled and planned way helps us be better when it is that planned chaos on an actual incident, which we always fit in, we always do really well because of these practices that we do very often” Vestal said.
Metro Fire sometimes gets the use of residential buildings to burn for drills, Vestal said, but large business properties with many appliances are rarely available. In this case, the property owner would save money on demolition costs, he said.
Drills included minimizing exposure to other nearby buildings, controlling smoke and extinguishing fires at night, which Vestal said comes with limited visibility compared to a daytime fire.
Firefighters began with a few rounds of small, contained fires that gradually culminated in a final roaring blaze that lasted past 1 a.m.
When the fire was first ignited, dozens of eager onlookers cheered as restaurant began to sizzle like a Santa Fe skillet.
One firefighter slipped on the restaurant’s red ceramic roof tiles after stepping off a ladder, tumbling down about 10 feet — the audience audibly gasped in horror — but he shook it off and got back up.
After the first small fire was safely put out, Vestal said crews stopped to take a moment and discuss the accident before continuing with another bout. Vestal later said the firefighter was evaluated at a hospital and cleared to return to the exercise.
Twin sisters Jennifer Christ and Rachell Miller grew up in the Carmichael area and used to go to the Denny’s often with family, so they came to see the warehouse of memories turn to ashes before their eyes.
“This is a big deal for us,” Miller said, and her sister added that she was sad to see it go, but glad it could help in training the firefighters.
Vestal — who admitted he had never dined at the Denny’s before its closure — said he was somewhat surprised at the sizable crowd milling behind a wire fence, but pleased by their support.
“We recognize this was a community center,” Vestal said. “The other thing is, it’s kind of humbling to see that people are actually interested in what we do.”
About 36 firefighters were on the scene of the Denny’s, plus five engines, two ladder trucks and seven battalion chiefs, Vestal said.