Updated at 12:42 p.m. Dec. 11, 2012
Gingham hopes to be back serving diners Thursday—four days after a series of propane tank explosions damaged its exterior.
“We are aiming to reopen our doors to the public this Thursday, December 13th!” said a Facebook post Monday, a day the diner is normally dark. “If anything changes you will all be the first to know!”
Residents near the downtown Village awoke to violent booms Sunday and saw fireballs above Gingham, but the blaze was limited to the restaurant’s exterior and nobody was hurt.
Five or six propane tanks exploded—among 30-35 stored in an outside area of the popular restaurant, authorities said. The tanks are used for patio heating lamps.
“Quite frankly, from the size of the fireballs, I expected even more damage,” said neighbor Michael Franklin, who saw the fire from his upstairs balcony. “My wife thought my nephew had fallen out of bed at first.”
Franklin said the fireballs rose at least 100 feet high.
Stored oily rags combusted and set off the series of morning explosions, said Heartland Fire & Rescue spokesman Sonny Saghera.
First reported at 5:48 a.m., one engine company responded to a report of a rubbish fire at the scene, Saghera said. But when tanks began exploding, three other engines were called as well as a truck company.
Quick action from the nearby Allison Avenue fire station limited damage to the dining spot at 8384 La Mesa Blvd. and the adjacent McCrea Music Company.
Robert James, who lives near the scene, said he heard explosions with a force strong enough to knock people off their feet. He said at least seven homes were evacuated.
Another witness was Bill Dick, who shared the attached photo of the Gingham blaze, taken about 5:55 a.m.
“I was getting in my car a few blocks away and heard an explosion,” he said. “I looked up and saw a pulsing orange glow in the fog over downtown. I drove up La Mesa Boulevard to a police barricade at the funeral home.”
He said he parked and walked to watch the fire for a few minutes and heard more explosions.
“Each one was a loud bang with a burst of white flame shooting high over the restaurant,” Dick said. “There was a group of four onlookers standing at the funeral home. Neighbors were standing in front of their houses or walking toward the fire as I was leaving.”
Gentry McCrea, son of the owner of McCrea Music Company, said Heartland Fire originally thought the blaze affected only their store, which adjoins Gingham. He said there was smoke damage and some instruments got wet.
“I’m definitely relieved,” McCrea said. “I’m amazed that they were able to contain it when the fuel for the fire was propane.”
McCrea said the fire was so hot it melted the brass handle on the back door. He said morning walkers frequent the area and was glad nobody was hurt.
He said the store had scheduled music lessons Sunday, “and I think we’ll be OK.”
Co-owner and executive chef Brian Malarkey told Patch that an investigation is under way and a decision will come later on when to reopen. The restaurant opened less than a year ago in a space formerly occupied by Gio’s Bistro and Wine Bar.
U-T San Diego reported that damage was estimated at $50,000.