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Cause of Old Cuevas Bistro fire could take days to determine

By Patrick Ochs, The Sun Herald
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 31--PASS CHRISTIAN -- Harrison County Fire Marshal Pat Sullivan was investigating the remains of the Old Cuevas Bistro deep into the morning Thursday and said it could take days to determine a cause.

Manager Joseph Schuman said the restaurant is no stranger to tragedy. Just years after originally opening in 1851, the structure burned and had to be rebuilt. Less than a year after owner Cassandra Timmons bought the restaurant, Hurricane Katrina put 12 feet of water in the structure. Without flood insurance -- Schuman said they were out of the flood zone at the time -- Old Cuevas Bistro was rebuilt in large part thanks to community volunteers and support.

As of Thursday morning, he said it was too soon to decide what the next step will be for management.

"I know there will be a lot of people with reservations who are disappointed," he said. "They'll understand when they see the place, hopefully. Right now, we'd have to start from scratch and start all over."

Sullivan was asked if Timmons was lucky her home, which is directly next door, didn't catch on fire. He said it was the hard work of the firefighters, not luck, that saved her home. He commended the different departments for working seamlessly to limit what could have been a much worse blaze.

Sullivan said they received a call about 11:30 p.m. from a person driving past on Menge Avenue who said smoke was showing from the restaurant.

By the time units arrived, Sullivan said, heavy smoke was showing from the roof and fire broke through shortly after.

He said the fire progressed throughout the roof and destroyed the restaurant that was first built in 1851. It has served as a general store, a trading hub, a grocery store and several restaurants.

Sullivan said firefighters gained control of the fire about 3 a.m. but have been monitoring the building throughout the morning as a precaution.

While firefighters were able to keep the blaze from jumping to the owner's home next door, Sullivan called the restaurant a "total loss."

"With the owner living next door, one of the reasons we were fighting it aggressively is to keep the flames confined (to the restaurant)," he said.

The restaurant had been open during the day, but Sullivan said no one was present when the fire started.

Fourteen trucks and 25 firefighters from Harrison County Fire Services, Pass Christian, Cuevas, Lizana, West Harrison and the Air National Guard all responded to the blaze.

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Sullivan said authorities are currently investigating the cause of the fire.

The Sun Herald is working to update the report.


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