Blaze started in an oven, then smoldered in building's attic
Stacey Burns; The News Tribune
Flames engulfed and destroyed a popular University Place pizza restaurant after workers evacuated the business Tuesday night.
The fire ripped through Pizza & Pipes at 2014 Mildred St. W. about 9 p.m. after smoldering in the restaurant's attic for nearly an hour, University Place fire investigators said. Flames and black smoke billowed from the roof and could be seen for blocks.
The smoke attracted a number of people to the area, many of whom had eaten at the restaurant over the years. The business, known for its gigantic pipe organ, opened more than 24 years ago.
"You hate to see it burn down," James Kelley said. "It was a good family place to go."
Kelley and dozens of others watched and took photographs as firefighters from University Place, Lakewood and Tacoma battled the blaze for more than an hour.
University Place fire spokesman Dave Dupille said no one was seriously injured.
The restaurant's owner was taken to an area hospital for smoke inhalation. He tried to show firefighters a way to fight the blaze and ran into a patch of smoke, Dupille said.
Monte Pimlot of Tacoma had just finished eating pizza at his niece's ninth birthday party when employees evacuated the restaurant about 8:10 p.m. More than 20 patrons were inside the restaurant at the time.
The family grabbed the presents and leftover pizza, then stood outside and watched the fire build. Pimlot said he was one of the last people out.
"She'll remember this birthday real well," he said of his niece.
The fire started in a pizza oven, but investigators did not know how or why, Dupille said. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department sent an arson investigator to the scene, spokesman Ed Troyer said.
The blaze crawled up the oven's vent and into the restaurant's attic, Dupille said.
Patrons said they didn't know the building was on fire until workers evacuated them. Many said employees tried to put the fire out before removing the customers.
"There was no smoke inside," Anthony Jones said. "There was more smoke on the outside."
Firefighters tried battling the fire from inside the restaurant and from the roof. The building had no sprinkler system.
"The fire just ran along the inside (attic area)," Dupille said. "That was a very difficult issue because the ceiling is very high."
Just before 9 p.m., the roof collapsed as flames broke through the ceiling, and firefighters cleared out of the building and off the roof.
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