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Tuesday, June 6, 2023
June 6, 2023

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Diosa, pyrotechnic firm fined in wake of fire at downtown Vancouver restaurant

Indoor pyrotechnics ignited paper decor, 2nd exit door bolted shut

By , Columbian staff reporter

Large, indoor sparklers caused $277,000 in damage to Diosa, a new upscale Mexican restaurant in downtown Vancouver, Thursday afternoon after a spark ignited ceiling decorations while about 60 people were inside.

Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said she issued a $500 citation to the operator of the pyrotechnic company that installed six cold spark machines, which shoot titanium alloy 6 to 7 feet into the air like a sparkler, without a permit.

“We require a fire operational permit to do any kind of indoor or outdoor pyrotechnics, because there’s a lot of safety precautions and conditions that are involved in this kind of activity — and especially indoors,” Scarpelli said. “They’re touted on the internet as being ‘fire safe,’ but we know that’s not true, and it obviously started a fire.”

Owner Jorge Castro said they planned to use the machines for the restaurant’s grand opening, and the company he hired was testing them Thursday.

Vancouver firefighters responded at 12:04 p.m. to the restaurant at 1004 Washington St., after someone inside called 911. Everyone was out of the restaurant when firefighters arrived, according to Vancouver Fire spokesman Raymond Egan. He said crews quickly extinguished the fire and prevented it from spreading beyond the restaurant. About 15 personnel from the Vancouver Fire Department and one unit from Clark County Fire District 6 responded.

Courtesy video Video

The restaurant was scheduled to open Tuesday. Castro said Friday he’s waiting for the experts to assess all of the damage before setting a new opening date but promised they’d work as quickly as possible to be ready for customers.

The fire was near the front door, forcing restaurant staff and others who were there for a photo shoot to use another exit. However, Scarpelli said that during the remodel, the owners moved the required second exit door, without a permit, and bolted it shut.

“They didn’t obtain building permits to move the exit door, let alone bolt it shut,” Scarpelli said. “It caused confusion and delay. … This is a very serious, egregious violation of fire and life safety of the fire code.”

Castro said they moved the door with plans of building an outdoor patio but that the work was tied up with the city.

Scarpelli fined the owners $500 for the unpermitted construction work.

“This was really a near miss where you could have had catastrophic failure if it hadn’t been for the sprinkler system that activated and suppressed the fire until firefighters arrived,” Scarpelli said.

Castro agreed that without the sprinklers, the fire could’ve been much worse.

“We’re blessed that those came on and worked exactly how they’re intended to work,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the fire department and how fast they got there, how helpful they were, how concerned they were for us and everybody inside the building. I’ve never been part of a fire.”

Diosa was scheduled to host a soft opening for friends and family Friday. The restaurant takes over in the place that was formerly Jorge’s Tequila Factory.

“In hindsight, of course you want to have your home and your restaurant be as safe as possible,” Castro said. “There are definitely things we would have done different, and going back, there are always opportunities to be better and make any place safer.”

Scarpelli emphasized that fire codes were created to ensure tragic fires that have happened in the past don’t happen again.

“We’re open for business in the city of Vancouver. We want businesses to come here. We want to help businesses succeed. And when a business has a fire, they’re not open. That’s the opposite of what we want,” Scarpelli said. “We want strong economic vitality. We need that, but we can do it safely.”