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Origin of blaze determined

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The El Conquistador Mexican Restaurant building came down yesterday (Tuesday), revealing smoke damage to its neighbor, the Central Building.

The ruins of two downtown businesses are no longer smoldering, but potential hotspots are still a concern as work crews commenced with the demolition of the store fronts today (Wednesday).

The Sunday morning fire that destroyed the Safari Restaurant and El Conquistador Mexican Restaurant on Edison Avenue is believed to have been caused by a major short in the Safari's electrical panel.

The Sunnyside Fire Department requested the assistance of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate the cause of the fire. The agency managed to narrow down the source of the fire to the wall where the main electrical service panel was located. The panel had significant corrosion due to water traveling along the main conduit.

According to a Sunnyside Fire Department press release, it is believed that excessive rain over the weekend contributed to water accumulation.

"The arcing current inside the electrical service burnt holes in the panel, igniting nearby combustible materials," the release explained.

These combustible materials then fell to the floor directly in front of a natural gas meter inside the Safari, burning an approximate 2 1/2-inch hole in the meter, which fueled the flames.

From there, the fire climbed to the roof and traveled horizontally between several layers of empty roof and ceiling spaces, eventually consuming both restaurants.

Sunnyside firefighters were called to the scene at 7:45 a.m. this past Sunday and were soon joined by several firefighting agencies from as far away as Selah.

In order to extinguish the blaze, firefighters had to turn off the gas from inside the Safari as it burned.

It took firefighters more than four hours to get the blaze under control, but hotspots have kept the ruins smoldering since Sunday.

The fire was trapped in an empty space between the main floor and basement of the Safari Restaurant, making it very difficult for firefighters to get enough water there to extinguish it.

Following a flare-up last night, smoke no longer rises from the ruins, though hotspots are still a possibility.

Firefighters had been monitoring the situation since Sunday, with two firefighters staying on site 24 hours a day. But keeping an eye on the fire was only one reason for keeping firefighters on site, Sunnyside Fire Chief Aaron Markham revealed.

"We are keeping our eye on the fire, but that's not our major concern... we didn't have security fencing to keep people out."

While volunteer firefighters have been heavily utilized for this 24-hour surveillance, Markham says the bulk of the cost to the city due to this fire will come from firefighter pay, which will include overtime.

Meanwhile, at the Sunnyside Fire Department, extra help has been brought in at night to make up for the two men stationed at the fire scene. Markham also revealed that some hospital transfers have been deferred to Prosser.

Yesterday, work crews got the go-ahead from Yakima Clean Air Authority Air Pollution Control Officer Gary Pruit to tear down the store fronts.

"Do what you have to do," he said.

However, a movement to save the historical Safari Restaurant signage deterred crews and delayed the demolition of the store fronts.

The flare-up last night did damage the lowest Safari sign, situated just above the awning, but the larger neon sign remained undamaged as work crews began to remove the signs today.

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