A fire sparked outside a La Mesa restaurant early Sunday morning after several propane gas tanks exploded, fire officials said.
The loud explosion and subsequent fire happened just before 6 a.m. in the 8300 block of Allison Avenue near La Mesa Boulevard, just outside Gingham restaurant and the adjacent McCrea Music Company store.
The restaurant is one of several in San Diego County owned by former Bravo's Top Chef contestant Brian Malarkey.
Heartland Fire officials first responded to the scene for what they believed was a rubbish fire outside the restaurant.
When crews arrived, they found 10-foot-tall flames shooting from an outdoor storage area and heard explosions from propane tanks, Sonny Saghera of Heartland Fire & Rescue said.
Firefighters called for backup and three more engines arrived to help tackle the flames. While crews were on scene, approximately six additional propane gas tanks exploded.
Firefighters were able to quickly contain and extinguish the blaze in the storage area and cool the remaining propane tanks. The fire did not spread any further.
Officials said the exteriors of Ginham restaurant and McCrea’s Music store sustained minor damages, estimated at $50,000.
No injuries were reported.
In all, the outdoor storage area contained approximately 35 propane tanks, Saghera said. Eight to 10 of those tanks were ruptured and five to six tanks fully exploded.
According to Saghera, the cause of the fire was determined to be oily rags bunched together that were stored in a bin near the propane tanks.
Saghera said organic materials from oil in rags can build up heat over time and spontaneously ignite, as in this case.
“Rags or towels that are used to clean any type of oil or grease should not be contained in a ball but rather laid out to dry before being stored in a properly approved container,” he added.