In­ves­ti­ga­tors say fire at res­tau­rant was ac­ci­den­tal

Kent County News - - NEWS - By JACK RODGERS jrodgers@thekent­coun­

ROCK HALL — The Of­fice of the Mary­land State Fire Mar­shal has de­ter­mined that Sun­day’s pre-dawn fire at the newly opened Wheel­house res­tau­rant was ac­ci­den­tal.

It was re­port­edly caused by a fail­ure within the kitchen hood sys­tem.

The res­tau­rant, which opened un­der new own­ers Scott and Bryn Ponti April 21, is tem­po­rar­ily shut­tered.

Bryn Ponti said Tues­day that they hope to re-open in a cou­ple of weeks. She said dam­age was con­tained to the walls and ceil­ing tiles.

Bryn Ponti said they have re­ceived sup­port from the Rock Hall com­mu­nity. Bill Wel­don, owner of Water­man’s Crab House, has of­fered to store the Wheel­house’s frozen goods un­til ren­o­va­tions are com­plete.

Mean­time, the Wheel­house will do­nate its pro­duce to a lo­cal re­tire­ment com­mu­nity, Bryn Ponti said.

The alarm sounded just be­fore 1 a.m. Sun­day at 20658 Wilkins Ave., ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease from the fire mar­shal. A fire alarm was present and ac­ti­vated.

More than two dozen vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers re­sponded and brought the blaze un­der con­trol in a lit­tle more than an hour, ac­cord­ing to the news re­lease. The Rock Hall Vol­un­teer Fire Com­pany was the pri­mary re­spon­der. No in­juries were re­ported. Ac­cord­ing to the pre­lim­i­nary re­port, loss is es­ti­mated to be $4,000 to the build­ing and $2,000 to the con­tents.

In a tele­phone in­ter­view Tues­day, Bryn Ponti said she and a co­worker were clos­ing the res­tau­rant when they smelled smoke. She rec­og­nized the smell as an elec­tri­cal fire. While tracking the source of the smoke, they found flames within the ceil­ing of the kitchen, she said.

Bryn Ponti said she and the staff tried to put out the flames with a fire ex­tin­guisher be­fore call­ing 911.

Of­fi­cer Chris Wode of the Rock Hall Po­lice Depart­ment re­sponded and evac­u­ated the build­ing.

This was the sec­ond time in about five hours that the RHVFC an­swered an alarm at the Wheel­house.

The first alarm was at about 8 p.m. Satur­day, Bryn Ponti said.

She said a heat sen­sor mounted in the kitchen had been po­si­tioned too close to the stove, which is what ac­ti­vated the alarm.

She said the two alarms were not re­lated.

Scott and Bryn Ponti pur­chased the prop­erty, home of the former Swan Point Inn, in De­cem­ber. The pri­mary struc­ture was built in 1920, ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Depart­ment of As­sess­ments and Tax­a­tion on­line records.

Orig­i­nally from Wilm­ing­ton, Del., the Pon­tis moved to the Chestertown area about six years ago.

Bryn Ponti cur­rently teaches spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion in Delaware, spe­cial­iz­ing in work­ing with chil­dren with autism. She has worked as a teacher for 10 years, but has al­ways had a pas­sion for res­tau­rant work, she said.

Scott Ponti is a ma­son and pre­vi­ously owned his own busi­ness. He has done most of the ren­o­va­tion of the Wheel­house.

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