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Fire chars restaurant

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Greg Wisener pries boarding from the side of Matsuhisa after a small fire at the restaurant Wednesday. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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A small fire yesterday torched the corner of the century-old house on Main Street that is home to Aspen sushi restaurant Matsuhisa.According to Aspen Fire Marshall Ed Van Walraven, the fire likely started when the owner of the building used a propane torch to melt ice that had gathered on the front patio. Although the patio and a lower section of the building are stone, flames leapt from the torch to ignite a small portion of the building.The restaurant opened for business on Wednesday evening, although the section of the lounge closest to the fire damage remained closed for the night.The fire quickly entered a crawl space inside the facade and building owner Niklaus Kuhn said he didn’t know the house was on fire.

“I used the torch because the snowmelt in that area had frozen,” Kuhn said. Kuhn said it was the first time he has used the torch to melt ice.While firefighters worked Kuhn scattered salt on the area around them so the wet patio wouldn’t freeze. A small crowd gathered on the sidewalk to watch the action inside the restaurant’s front gate as smoke curled up from the cracks in the corner of the building.Matsuhisa manager Todd Reese said he had just arrived at work for the day, at about 2 p.m., when he noticed a burning smell in the restaurant’s basement dining room, and saw smoke coming into the room from the light fixtures in the ceiling. After asking his staff to evacuate, he ran outside with a fire extinguisher and sprayed the 6-inch flames he saw coming out of the front corner of the building.Sushi chefs Jonathan Maza, Corey Leland and Jihoon Kim sat on the sidewalk along Monarch Street while firefighters flocked around the front of the building.

“We were in the kitchen and a manager told us to evacuate,” Maza said. “We smelled smoke, so we grabbed our knives and came out here.”A small section of the lower front corner of the building incinerated by the fire was cut away by firefighters.Firefighters cut holes with chain saws in the floor of the lounge space on the upper floor and in the ceiling of the basement dining room to reach the crawl space. Van Walraven said firefighters determined that the fire did not extend farther into the building.”You wouldn’t think that the flames [from the torch on the patio] would travel up that far, but they do travel,” Van Walraven noted. He pointed out that the century-old building’s dry wood was quick to ignite.



Besides the slight smell of smoke in the building and the burn damage to the front facade, Van Walraven said efforts to extinguish the flames resulted in water damage in the restaurant’s back dining room. The fire department had left the scene at 3:30 p.m.Matsuhisa owner Michael Goldberg said he didn’t know what the cost of repairs would be.”Whatever it is, we’ll get it fixed quickly,” he said. “We’ve been busy all year and we want to be ready to have the back dining room open. We’re entering our busiest season, although we’re fortunate to have steady business at least upstairs during the offseason.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com

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