CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — An early morning fire that caused significant damage Wednesday to a Cedar Rapids bar was caused by spontaneous combustion.
Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said the blaze that tore through the first two floors of the Chrome Horse Saloon and Slop House, 1202 Third St. SE, started when a pile of rags and towels containing animal fats and grease ignited.
Spontaneous combustion occurs when a flammable or combustible substance is slowly heated through oxidation until it reaches its ignition point. Ignition generally happens with the substance is tightly compacted and doesn’t have proper ventilation.
“A pile gets an opportunity to sit there and heat itself up and a flame breaks out,” Buelow said.
Chrome Horse general manager Derek Collins said he doesn’t know how long the fire will take the bar out of commission.
“I can’t guess on that,” he said. “At least a few months. It’s pretty rough ... The smoke damage and water damage is horrible.”
Cedar Rapids firefighters responded to the blaze at 1 a.m. after a passer-by reported smoke coming out of the four-story brick building. Responding firefighters encountered smoke coming out of the 12th Avenue side of the building and out of the windows and vents at the back of the business. Firefighters entered the building through the kitchen and encountered heavy smoke and fire, according to the city. Part of the ceiling had collapsed and part of the floor had been destroyed.
The stairwell leading to the second floor also was destroyed.
The fire required a four alarm response, and nearly all on-duty personnel responded to the scene. Several firefighters went through three bottles of air during the early stages of the fire.
Buelow said four alarm fires are an extremely rare occurrence. This one was necessitated by the size of the building.
“We can’t recall one recently where we deployed all the resources like that,” he said. “It’s a very rare event. Even two alarm fires are fairly rare.”
Unfortunately, fires caused by spontaneous combustion are less rare. Buelow said there have been several instances of those type of blazes recently, illustrating the need to keep flammable items like greasy rags in a metal container with a lid.
According to the fire department, the first and second floors of the building sustained significant smoke, heat and fire damage. The fire damage mostly was contained to the back side of the first two levels, including the kitchen on the first floor and a green room, hallway and the underside of a stage on the second floor. The second floor of the building is home to Third Street Saloon, which has a stage and seating area for parties.
The third and fourth floors of the building suffered heavy smoke damage.
Several motorcycles — a 2003 anniversary edition Softail Deuce, a 2003 anniversary edition Fatboy, a 1978 AMF dirt bike, a 1969 M65, a 1951 Pan Head and a 1911 Excelsior — are displayed in the bar. Collins said he’s hopeful the motorcycles only suffered smoke damage, but he’s not sure about the condition of the bikes closest to the kitchen area.
No one was in the building when the fire started and no injuries were reported. Collins said he didn’t have a damage estimate on the fire, yet.
The Hiawatha Fire Department was on standby for additional Cedar Rapids fire calls. No calls for service were missed while crews were fighting the Chrome Horse fire.
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