HEMET: Firefighters quickly extinguish fire at Applebee’s restaurant

Hemet Fire’s Truck One responded to the fire, which caused minor damage to the restaurant. J.P. Kemp/Epicenter News photo

HEMET – A fire at Applebee’s Grill and Bar prompted a city-wide response by City of Hemet firefighters Monday, Jan. 30. The popular local restaurant is in the 2500 block of W. Florida Avenue at the southwest intersection of Kirby Street in Hemet.

The fire was reported to City of Hemet emergency dispatchers shortly after 3:30 p.m., by employees and customers who called 911 to report heavy smoke filling the inside of the restaurant.

Firefighters from all five City of Hemet fire stations – including five engine companies, one truck company, and a paramedic squad – responded to reports of the restaurant fire. Hemet Fire Chief Scott Brown also responded to the fire.

The first arriving fire personnel arrived within minutes and reported observing moderate smoke and flames visible from vents in the side of the building and roof on the northeast corner of the building.

Firefighters immediately began searching the restaurant for the source of the fire, which was determined to have begun inside the wall of the restaurant’s chemical room near the kitchen and a side door.

A firefighter exits the restaurant near where the fire was located. J.P. Kemp/Epicenter News photo

After discovering the origin of the fire, firefighters mounted an aggressive fire attack. They quickly cut through the wall from both inside and outside the business, allowing them to extinguish the flames and keep the fire from advancing further into the business’s attic or into other parts of the restaurant.

While firefighters battled the fire, Applebee’s employees could be seen standing in the parking lot of the restaurant. Many used their cell phones to videotape and photograph the firefighters battling the fire, which one employee described as an “electrical fire” in a posting to social media.

Neither fire nor restaurant officials have released the actual cause of the fire, which is still under investigation.

While firefighters worked at bringing the fire under control, officials summoned Southern California Gas Company and Southern California Edison employees to the location to turn off utilities to the restaurant to ensure the safety of citizens, firefighters, and other emergency first responders at the business. 

City of Hemet fire officials and Chief Brown discuss the incident with Applebee’s manager Mansour Meschi. J.P. Kemp/Epicenter News photo

Firefighters had the fire knocked down in less than thirty minutes.

By 4:30 p.m., fire personnel had begun overhaul and mop-up operations. Resources were expected to remain at the scene of the fire for at least one hour after the fire was extinguished.

There were no citizen or firefighter injuries related to the fire.

After the fire was knocked down, Applebee’s employee J.T. Earhart – who credited the restaurant’s good escape plan and emergency policies and procedures with the employee’s quick actions – described what happened in the moments after the fire was first discovered.

In an interview with Hemet News’ Eddie George, Earhart said his first thought after the fire was discovered was, “Just get everyone out. That was my first instinct, just get everyone out.”

“Luckily (the fire happened) during the slow time,” Earhart explained. “We had an hour until our next rush came in so we didn’t have too many people (in the restaurant).”

Earhart, who said, “We just pretty much got everyone out as fast as possible,” estimated employees “were able to get everyone out within three minutes.”

While firefighters were beginning to clean up the scene of the fire, restaurant manager Mansour Meschi explained that employees first became aware of the fire after they noticed smoke pouring into the dining area from within the kitchen.

Hemet Fire Chief Scott Brown discusses the fire damage with Applebee’s manager Mansour Meschi. Eddie George/Hemet News photo

Meschi said employees called for the immediate evacuation of restaurant guests. While guests were being evacuated from the building, employees then called 911 to report the fire.

The restaurant sustained minor damage that will require repairs according to Earhart, who said on social media a fire chief estimated it would take at least one week to repair the building, which suffered minor to moderate interior and exterior damage.

It was not immediately known if the restaurant will remain open while the fire and smoke damage to the building is repaired; however Meschi speculated, “Most likely we will not be able to open tonight, but we might be able to open up tomorrow.”

Employees expressed on social media that they were hopeful the restaurant would be repaired and opened in time for next Sunday’s Super Bowl LI, between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.

Earhart was one of those employees expressing his hope that the restaurant would be able to reopen quickly.

“It’s pretty crazy. I wasn’t expecting a fire at work today,” Earhart explained. “I’m kind of bummed. I just wanted to make money, you know.”

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Trevor Montgomery spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg in an off-duty accident.

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including the Robert Presley Detention Center, the Southwest Station in Temecula, the Hemet Station, and the Lake Elsinore Station, along with many other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, Personnel and Background Investigations and he finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator.

Trevor has been married for more than 26 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 12 – soon to be 13 – grandchildren.