Close-call fire destroys new restaurant, Vivo, but owners will rebuild

Fire destroyed Vivo's Country Italian Kitchen and Bar on Depot Street, just weeks before the new restaurant was set to open. (Photo by Dennis Moynihan)

Fire destroyed Vivo's Country Italian Kitchen and Bar on Depot Street, just weeks before the new restaurant was set to open. (Photo by Dennis Moynihan)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Oil-soaked rags left out on the deck caused a devastating fire Friday to Vivo’s Italian Kitchen and Bar, destroying the century-old building at 18 Depot Street just days before the new 30-seat bistro-style restaurant was to open.

The blaze sent shock waves through town and an resulted in an immediate outpouring of offers to help the owners, James Burke and Joanie Wilson, 35-year restaurant owners from Massachusetts, who retired to Bridgton full-time in January to open their final restaurant.

“All of the kitchen and bar equipment was in, the staff was hired, and we were in the home stretch,” Burke said Monday. “We are devastated. I know that’s an overused word, but now I know what that means.”

The couple plans to begin immediate rebuilding, however. The building will be demolished as soon as insurance adjustors sign off on the claim, and Burke said his wife has already begun sketching out the new plans, which will be similar on the outside to the former building.

Burke estimated the financial loss at around half a million dollars. Harder to quantify was the months of loving labor the couple put into every detail of the project, including laying the stones for the fireplace and painting the ceilings and walls.

“My wife is an incredibly positive person,” Burke said. When the fire was raging, however, Wilson was in a state of total shock. “This isn’t even registering,” she said.

Fire Chief Glen Garland said the State Fire Marshal’s Office has all but certainly determined that oil-soaked rags started the fire, which broke out at 6:01 a.m. Garland said the rags, which the couple were using to stain table tops, must have been smoldering for several hours until the heat from the evaporating stain ignited the cloth. Depot Street construction workers arriving for work called in the fire, and the response only took minutes from the nearby Central Fire Station.

FIREFIGHTERS from Bridgton, Harrison, Naples and Fryeburg battled the early morning blaze. (Rivet Photo)

FIREFIGHTERS from Bridgton, Harrison, Naples, Sweden and Fryeburg battled the early morning blaze. (Rivet Photo)

Bridgton’s ladder truck teamed up with the Naples ladder truck in directing a steady stream of water on the roofs of both adjacent buildings, the Depot Street Tap House on the right and an apartment building on the left.

Nevertheless, Garland said the fire spread so rapidly to the Tap House that century-old sap from the wood siding began oozing out, and the outer pane of the side window broke. Had the inner pane also been broken, Garland said the fire would almost certainly have spread to the Tap House.

“When I pulled up, I wasn’t sure if I was going to all three of (the buildings) on fire,” Garland said. Adding to the danger were the fuel oil and propane tanks behind the building.

Tap House owner Carrye Castleman-Ross said she was incredibly grateful for the quick response by Bridgton and other neighboring fire departments. Garland said around 30 firefighters responded from Bridgton, as most of them had not yet left for work. Also responding on scene were firefighters from Naples, Harrison, Fryeburg and Sweden, with Norway and Casco standing by.

“We can never thank them enough for their brave actions and quick response,” said Castleman-Ross, who is planning a thank you gathering in the courtyard between the Tap House and Burke’s property once the building is torn down.

Garland credited two factors for containing the fire — having two ladder trucks on scene and being able to hook up quickly to hydrants. The flames initially spread to the second floor and crawl space under the building, and firefighters had to work around utility wires that had burned off the pole and fell to the ground.

Burke said all of the dozen employees that had been hired for the opening have said they’ll work there when the restaurant is rebuilt. “This staff was shaping up to be one of our best staffs,” he said.

“Without question, it’s not the end of the story. We want to do everything we can to get it up and running in the fall,” said Burke.

Castleman-Ross said Kristine Karlsson at Chalmers Realty is trying to channel all the offers from the community to help by putting up a “Back It Up” board at the Tap House for people to sign up to give time or materials.

At Tuesday’s Selectmen meeting, Town Manager Bob Peabody, who was at the fire scene, said he and Planning Director Anne Krieg have reached out to the couple to offer any help possible. The streetscape project along Depot Street is nearly complete, and town officials have viewed Vivo’s as a significant contributor to the revitalization of the side street.

Added Selectman Paul Hoyt, “If anyone ever wondered if the cost of the ladder truck was worth it, there’s the proof.”

Please follow and like us: