Investigators say fire at restaurant was accidental
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.