Clovis Fire Department Capt. Karen Burns, left, and fire investigator Jeff Allen look over damage near the entrance to the China Star restaurant on Sunday afternoon. (Staff photo: David Stevens)
By William Thompson: Freedom Newspapers
Fire gutted the China Star about 9:30 on Sunday morning, closing one of Clovis’ more popular restaurants indefintely.
Fire officials said the building at 1221 N. Main was a total loss.
“There was a full collapse of the whole interior of the building,” said Capt. Karen Burns of the Clovis Fire Department. “The second story collapsed into the first story creating a heavy fire load. … It is not structurally sound anymore.”
Officials said a cook was working at the restaurant when it caught fire, but he was not injured. Restaurant owner Harry Wang said the cook had stepped outside the building for a few minutes and did not notice the fire until he attempted to return to the building.
Burns said two firefighters were treated for minor burns and were released from Plains Regional Medical Center.
She would not speculate on the cause of the fire.
A fire department news release said damage to the building included a partial collapse of the dining area, heavy smoke and fire damage to the kitchen and dish area and extensive heat, smoke and water damage throughout the building.
Wang said the restaurant’s cook, Pingfa Zhang, was changing oil in a deep fat fryer early Sunday morning, but Wang said the procedure was routine. He did not know if the fire started in the area where the cook had been working.
Zhang does not speak English and could not be interviewed on Sunday night.
Wang said he was shocked by the fire’s devastation.
“The roof caved in and everything was charred,” he said. “If I ever reopen the business it will most likely be at a new location.”
Wang said business was good at the restaurant he has owned the past 2 1/2 years.
“The Clovis News Journal (readers) voted us ‘Best of Clovis’ in the oriental food category. Customers have come up to me … telling me they hope I will reopen because they said it was the best oriental food in town,” he said.
China Star was Wang’s first venture in restaurant ownership. He said he wasn’t allowed inside the building Sunday to see the full extent of the damage.
“The fire department told me I would have to wait until they and the insurance people complete their investigation,” he said. “I don’t know if any of the kitchen equipment can be salvaged. I’ve never had an experience like this, so I don’t know how long it will take to find out the extent of the damage and if I will receive enough money (from insurance coverage) to start the business again.”
Don McAlavy, Curry County’s historian, said the building at 1221 Main Street first served as a Ryerson Pontiac dealership shortly after World War II.
“In the 1950s the building became the home of KCLV radio station, which was owned by Chris ‘Pop’ Echols,” McAlavy said.
Probably the most famous business at that location was the Western Skies Restaurant and Lounge in the 1980s, he said.
Ray Escarzega, a long-time customer of the China Star, said he was shocked to see smoke coming out of the roof of the building when he passed by Sunday morning.
“My sister and I went there all the time,” Escarzega said. “It was the only Chinese place I ever liked here in Clovis. I liked their chicken dishes, especially their chicken jalapeno. The waitresses knew us by name.”
Fire officials remained on the scene Sunday night. Investigators will try to determine the cause of the fire today or Tuesday.