Officials have China Star fire set for investigation

Clovis firefighters work to put out a fire Sunday at the China Star restaurant on Main Street. Fire officials said the building was a total loss. (Courtesy photo: John Bourne)

By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ Staff Writer

Clovis firefighters have secured the premises of the China Star restaurant, which burned Sunday morning, and don’t plan to do further investigation until Wednesday pending arrival of investigators from the restaurant’s insurance company.

Ray Westerman, assistant chief of the Clovis Fire Department, said it’s common practice for fire department and insurance company investigators to enter the building together.

“They can work through the cause of the fire together,” Westerman said. “That way everything is left alone and both parties, the insurance company and the fire department both, can witness firsthand the way everything is right now.”

Westerman said the two-story building’s roof collapsed during the blaze leading to a total loss of the building interior. The fire department report on the incident estimates that damage to the building and contents will be $1.5 million.

“Most of the roof did collapse with obvious weakening of the exterior walls,” according to the fire department report.

Officials have said they do not know what caused the fire.

Westerman said the fire department hasn’t yet spoken with Pingfa Zhang, a cook who was inside the restaurant about the time the fire broke out and does not speak English, but will do so if needed as part of the investigation.

China Star owner Harry Wang did not return calls to his home Monday night. On Sunday, Wang said Zhang was changing oil in a deep fat fryer before the fire broke out, but the procedure was routine. Wang said the cook stepped outside the building for a few minutes and did not notice the fire until he attempted to return to the building.

Wang said he did not know if the fire started in the area where the cook had been working.