China Star restaurant, 10 apartments destroyed by fire in downtown Salem, 2 firefighters injuredBy RYAN LESSARD
Union Leader Correspondent
June 14. 2018 10:13AM
SALEM - A 3-alarm fire destroyed a landmark downtown restaurant, 10 apartments and another business early Wednesday morning.
An alarm alerted the fire department about 5:35 a.m., Salem Fire Chief Paul Parisi said crews arrived within minutes to find flames tearing through the China Star restaurant on the first floor.
Apartments in the upper floors and rear were evacuated from the 2.5 story building at 80 Main St., located across the street from the Tuscan Kitchen Restaurant.
Chief Parisi said the building collapsed about two hours into battling the blaze.
Resident Brian Zurita, 22, said he and his 19-year-old brother Daniel, 13-year-old sister and parents lost just about everything in the fire.
“Tried to grab my shoes and a backpack real quick and get a safe distance away,” Zurita said.
Daniel escaped with only the clothes on his back and a cell phone. He was still barefoot an hour after the fire had been extinguished.
First responders from the American Red Cross sat down with families to provide assistance.
Zurita said a neighbor getting ready for work noticed the fire and knocked on everyone’s door to wake them.
Parisi said 13 of the 17 residents were home at the time, but everyone has been accounted for.
During the fire, a ceiling collapsed on two firefighters. They were transported to Holy Family Hospital in Methuen as a precaution, but Parisi said they are both fine.
In addition to the China Star, the building was home to Venue Vapors, which also was destroyed.
A total of 10 fire engines and three ladder trucks deployed to fight the fire, with additional help from all the surrounding towns, said Parisi.
Joe Faro, the owner of Tuscan Kitchen was on the scene. He set up tables with food and water for first responders and was providing free breakfast and lunch for families displaced by the fire.
“We’re here. We’re part of the community. If there’s a need, we fill it,” Faro said.
The combined 16,080-square-foot building was assessed at a value of $670,000 by the town, according the Salem tax collector database. It’s owned by WS Realty Trust.
Sally Lee, one of the trustees, wasn't at the property when the fire started but came to the scene to help connect residents with the Red Cross.
Lee said she has no plans yet to rebuild. An excavator was on site as of 10 a.m. clearing debris.
Assistant Fire Chief Larry Best said it’s up to the landowners to fence off the property and remove the wreckage.
Salem Fire Marshal Jeff Emanuelson said they found no evidence of anything suspicious. The fire began in the kitchen of the China Star restaurant, he said.
Emanuelson said investigators are interviewing residents but the cause of the fire will likely be “undetermined.”
It was not related to natural gas and the owners reported no issues with the electrical system, he said.
The the building was old and had no sprinkler system contributed to the severity of the fire, according to fire officials.
Unitil was at the scene Wednesday to dig out and cap the natural gas line leading to the building.
Best said the town would clear debris from the street and reopen it to traffic by the afternoon.
Town Manager Christopher Dillon said members of the community who in the past have rallied support for people displaced by other apartment fires are already planning a fundraiser for those affected by Wednesday’s fire.