The ruins of two downtown Sunnyside eareries are smoldering today after a fire destroyed the Safari and El Conquistador restaurants in the 600 block of Edison Avenue.
The firestorm that ravaged the two downtown businesses started in the back of the Safari Restaurant on Edison Avenue, according to the Sunnyside Fire Department.
Firefighters were dispatched at 7:45 a.m. Sunday morning.
The fire quickly spread to the El Conquistador Mexican Restaurant as the two businesses share a common roof and ceiling structure.
According to a Sunnyside Fire Department press release, the fire traveled through empty spaces between the roof and a layer of ceiling that was not accessible from inside.
Firefighters contained the fire between the Blue Moon Tavern on the east side of the Safari Restaurant and the Central Building on the west side of El Conquistador.
Twelve agencies, including Sunnyside, responded to the fire. Mutual aid was immediately requested from the Grandview and Granger fire stations, with a second aid request sent out to upper valley fire agencies soon after.
More than 100 emergency personnel responded
A total of 11 different fire agencies provided supporting staff, along with four ladder trucks and eight engines.
Toppenish, Union Gap, Yakima and Selah, along with Yakima County fire districts #5 from Zillah, #4 from East Valley and #12 from West Valley were among those providing support.
The Grandview, Prosser, Toppenish and Yakima fire stations provided the four ladder trucks, while Outlook firefighters manned the Sunnyside Fire Department and Prosser provided ambulance coverage for the area as firefighters battled the blaze.
An estimated 120 firefighters, EMT's and command staff are believed to have been on scene.
As of press time, firefighters are still battling hotspots at the scene and downtown Edison Avenue from Sixth Street to Seventh Street is closed.
'No reason to believe it's arson'
Once the fire is fully extinguished, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) will commence an investigation into the cause of the fire and insurance adjustors will evaluate the damage. The Sunnyside Fire Department requested the ATF lead the investigation due to the size of the fire.
While the cause of the fire remains unknown, Sunnyside Fire Chief Aaron Markham noted, "There is no reason to believe it's arson."
The Safari Restaurant and El Conquistador Mexican Restaurant were completely destroyed by the inferno, resulting in an estimated loss that ranges from $500,000 to $1 million or more.
According to Chief Markham, there is damage to all the buildings on the north side of the block except for the Golden Pheasant.
Markham added that the Blue Moon Tavern likely suffered just smoke damage. Further damage was avoided due to a fire wall between the Blue Moon Tavern and the Safari Restaurant.
The Central Building, located on the corner of South Sixth Street and Edison Avenue, also suffered water damage as some upstairs windows failed, Markham revealed.
Power to the block remains off as firefighters continue to battle hotspots.
Deputy Fire Chief LloydHazzard said crews drained the Sunnyside fire water reservoir by nearly half, but it should be back to 100 percent today.
Hazzard said local residents and the Red Cross pitched in to aid firefighters, bringing them much appreciated food, water and coffee throughout the day.
'It's like watching your house burn down'
The Safari Restaurant has been a Sunnyside landmark for more than 50 years. Longtime Sunnyside resident Don "Skeeter" Prescott worked at the Safari when it opened December 1960.
"There's a lot of memories there," Prescott said, noting the restaurant was the Pastime Sports Center before transforming into the Safari.
Prescott recalled how the Safari lived up to its exotic name by at one time featuring live monkees and other wild animals.
For awhile, the Safari was even a concert venue, with L.A. Dodger great Maury Wills among the acts who performed there.
Rigoberto and Enedina Carrasco bought the Safari in 2001 and re-opened the restaurant after it had been shuttered for a few years.
Speaking through their son, Rigoberto Jr., the family thanked firefighters for battling the blaze. "We're very thankful no one was hurt."
The younger Carrasco added, "They're sad it's gone."
The Safari was more than a business for the Carrascos, as both father and son recalled going there to play pool or the arcade.
"It was like family for us," the younger Carrasco said. "It's like watching your house burn down. It's a sad thing."
Jose Mora and his parents have operated El Conquistador for 17 years.
He said the family was just getting ready to go to the restaurant to prepare for lunch when they heard about the fire.
"The community has really come to us to extend a hand," Mora said of Sunnyside. "We have friendships with a lot of customers and we're really glad for their reaction."
Mora's wife, Juana, thanked the fire departments and firefighters who responded to the blaze.
Both the Moras and Carrascos say they're not sure if or when they'll rebuild.
Both families say the first step is to meet with investigators and insurers.
"We're taking it one day at a time and going from there," said Carrasco Jr.