It was exactly 9:48 Monday night when Cindy Wo got a text message with a disturbing photo. It showed The China Max Seafood Restaurant engulfed in flames.
Her body was shaking as she drove to the restaurant she and her husband opened 17 years ago at the corner of Convoy and Engineer Roads. When she got there she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“Oh my God, it’s all burning” she told reporters.
It’s been a bad month for Wo. The coronavirus pandemic forced her to stop serving meals in her popular restaurant. She had to lay off 30 employees and rely on take-out service only. The night of the fire, China Max closed at 7 p.m.
No employees were inside, and Wo said she is thankful for that.
Over 100 firefighters rushed to the scene responding to the three-alarm blaze that was trapped in-between the first and second floor of the small strip mall housing China Max and several other businesses.
“When you have a fire shooting up inside like it did, it’s gonna explode eventually, and that’s what happened last night,” said San Diego Fire Battalion Chief Edward Kinnamon.
One firefighter was injured in the explosion, but Kinnamon said she was treated and released from a local hospital and was recovering at home.
Arson investigators visited nearby businesses to see if any of them had surveillance video that might help them determine the fire’s cause, but as of this posting, the investigation is incomplete.
Firefighters believe the fire began in the eaves, but they don’t know what ignited it.
Damage is estimated at $4.5 million.
As crews began to clear away the debris Tuesday, dozens of people pulled up to take pictures of the once-popular dining spot. John Croff, who owns a nearby business, said he’s eaten at China Max several times and it was always busy.
“It’s incredible to see it burn down like that,” he told NBC 7.