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Fire shuts down London restaurant just days after grand opening

Scott Monich/980 CFPL

Less than a week after its grand opening, a southwest London restaurant has been forced to close after a fire Wednesday afternoon that left one person in hospital and caused an estimated $75,000 in damage, fire officials said.

Fire crews responded to the scene at 312 Commissioners Rd. W., a commercial plaza near Andover Drive, for reports of a working fire inside a restaurant just after 12 p.m.

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At the scene, crews found heavy smoke billowing from the front door of Damascus House, a takeout restaurant.

The restaurant opened just last Friday by a family who had come to Canada in 2012 as refugees from Syria.

“We were able to make entry and knock the fire down quite quickly,” London Platoon Chief Colin Shewell said at the scene.

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“Other crews arrived and were able to determine that the fire was contained to the restaurant, however some of the other areas did have some smoke migration into them.”

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Firefighters managed to conduct a speedy evacuation of the plaza, Shewell said, adding that a few people were assessed at the scene by paramedics, and one person was transported to hospital with unknown injuries.

“I believe they were an employee of the restaurant and were assessed and were were taken to hospital,” he said, adding that other businesses have been able to reopen.

“The restaurant will definitely be out of business for today, if not a few weeks and months ahead.”

Damage to Damascus House following a fire on July 22, 2020.
Damage to Damascus House following a fire on July 22, 2020. Scott Monich/980 CFPL

The cause of the blaze remains unclear, and a fire investigator from the department has been requested to attend the scene.

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Crews are expected to remain on scene through the afternoon.

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Obai Alnassan, one of five staff members in the restaurant at the time, said he was alerted to the blaze by the store’s cashier.

“We run directly to the gas source and we shut it down,” he said. “We used the fire (extinguisher)… to put the fire down. It doesn’t work. I called 911, then we evacuated from the restaurant.”

“What was going through your mind?” Alnassan was asked.

“The owner,” he replied. “I really felt sad about him. We just started last Friday.”

“He’s doing OK, he’s good right now… the whole family of the restaurant, they’re all (in shock).”

Friday’s grand opening drew appearances by Mayor Ed Holder, Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen and London West MPP Peggy Sattler.

On Facebook, Holder and London West MP Kate Young wished owners Rasool and Faekah Alabrach continued success for their business.

Mayor Ed Holder, Counc. Paul Van Meerbergen, and MPP Peggy Sattler joined Rasool and Faekah Alabrach for the grand opening of their restaurant, Damascus House, on July 17, 2020.
Mayor Ed Holder, Counc. Paul Van Meerbergen, and MPP Peggy Sattler joined Rasool and Faekah Alabrach for the grand opening of their restaurant, Damascus House, on July 17, 2020. Ed Holder via Twitter

On Wednesday, Holder said he was hopeful the family could rebuild and reopen soon.

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“This is a family they, eight years ago, came basically with nothing from Syria. And they had a dream, and they had hope, and they felt that Canada and London in particular could give them that hope,” he said.

“These are resilient people who are brilliantly committed to serving London. And I’m optimistic that they will put their business back in order pretty soon.”

The owner of the restaurant declined to comment.

— With files from Scott Monich