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Fire Breaks Out in Chinese Restaurant After Employee Gets Trapped in Freezer

A Sunday morning fire that began on a stove when an employee locked himself in a freezer ruined the kitchen of L & L Chinese Seafood Restaurant on San Pablo Avenue, fire officials said.

A fire destroyed the kitchen of on San Pablo Avenue Sunday morning after an employee accidentally locked himself in the freezer and apparently left something heating on a stove, fire officials said.

No one was injured in the blaze, which was reported by neighbors at 8:41 a.m., said Battalion Chief Michael Pigoni. One witness said she saw some people spraying the back of the restaurant with garden hoses before the fire department arrived.

Firefighters were on the scene, at 10140 San Pablo Ave., and the fire was brought under control by El Cerrito and Richmond firefighters within 15 minutes, he said. Fire damage was limited to the kitchen, while the front of the restaurant sustained smoke damage, Pigoni said.

Pigoni said the fire is still under investigation. He said an employee working alone doing food preparation entered a walk-in freezer and became trapped inside, and that the fire started on the stove.

Pigoni said he wasn't sure how long the employee was trapped.

"It sound like it was quite a while," he said. "He was quite cold."

The restaurant will be closed indefinitely, Pigoni said. He said the kitchen will have to be gutted, the roof repaired and the facility re-inspected by city and county officials.

"It's going to be a while," he said.

Firefighters encountered heavy smoke when they arrived, said Richmond fire department Battalion Chief Erik Newman.

Responding to the fire were four fire engines, one fire truck and two SUV command vehicles, Newman.

The restaurant is on the east side of the San Pablo Avenue, half a block north of Central Avenue. An El Cerrito police officer guarding the fire scene said the restaurant serves good dim sum.

grumpster February 27, 2011 at 11:30 PM
Aren't commercial walk in freezers and refrigerators supposed to have a way to open them from the inside? I am surprised that the county restaurant inspector had not flagged this one already. Good thing no one was injured.
Maudie Frickert February 28, 2011 at 02:19 AM
I am impressed with the photos! The images express a refined tension, gracious yet pliant, adroit yet undemonstrative. I hope we see more from this auteur.
Charles Burress (Editor) February 28, 2011 at 06:15 AM
That's a good point. I imagine they'll check it next time!
Renate Valencia February 28, 2011 at 07:01 AM
Yes, there is supposed to be a way to get out from the inside. Sometimes even a little ice around the door can make it stick like crazy, though, regardless of the latch mechanism. When I was in cooking school and there late, my biggest fear was getting stuck in the huge walk-in there.

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