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Report shows Noodles and Company fire last month involved a ‘warming fire’


Official reports show a fire that closed Noodles and Company in downtown Columbia last month was sparked by a "warming fire" that was started too close to the building.

The fire happened the morning of March 17 in the 400 block of Ninth Street in downtown Columbia. No injuries were reported. Assistant Fire Chief Jeffrey Heidenreich said there is still an active investigation into who was involved in the March fire.

In a new report obtained by ABC 17 News, CFD wrote that the evidence shows the fire started outside the building on the northeast corner. "A subject negligently started a warming fire too close to the structure. The fire spread to the exterior of the structure. The fire then burned its way to the interior of the structure causing significant fire damage," the report says.

The report states an unhoused/homeless person was involved in the fire.

A fire marshal on the scene that day, Steve Riggs, described the northeast area of the building as having a small, metal barrel that contained burned debris and ash. The report says that a metal barrel was only 1 foot from the side of the Noodles and Company building, with burned debris between the metal barrel and the building.

Capt. Dave Haney reportedly said the area looked like a place someone may have been using to sleep.

Also in the report, Noodles and Company employee Madelin Collop told the fire department she was aware of people living behind the building and "she does not approve of them living there."

Collop told firefighters she received a security alert text around 7 a.m. the morning of the fire, but ignored it because she gets the alerts frequently.

ABC 17 spoke to other restaurants located near Noodles and Company, including The Heidelberg and Domino's, and both said they do not have any issues with homeless people in the area.

A sign on the door of Noodles and Company said it is temporarily closed while the company works to remedy the situation.

A spokesperson for Noodles and Company told ABC 17 News in an email on Friday, "We are actively engaged in an ongoing investigation and are working closely with local authorities. Ensuring our team members' and guests' safety and well-being remains our top priority and we are committed to serving the community and look forward to continuing to do so."

Heidenreich said it's not uncommon for CFD to respond to warming fires throughout Columbia, and he believes this is the first documented investigation in 2024 that shows a warming fire was the cause of a larger structure fire.

He did not have any data available about how many warming fires the department has responded to, but he did say warming fires do not always involve homeless individuals.

Heidenreich said warming fires are allowed in Columbia when temperatures are below 40 degrees, but they have to follow city code, including rules such as:

  • The fire must be inside a metal barrel and can't protrude out of the barrel
  • People can burn clean, untreated lumber
  • People can start the fire only on property they're allowed to be at
  • The fire must be atleast 15 feet away from any building

Heidenreich said this fire clearly went against code since it was started one foot from the Noodles and Company building.

"While we're not saying that this fire was intentionally set, we are saying that the location of the fire was negligent in that it was so close to the building," Heidenreich said. "With that, it becomes incendiary by nature."

The report says Haney and his fire crew were leaving a previous call when they smelled smoke and decided to investigate, finding a structure on fire. Haney wrote he could see a plume of black smoke and flames coming from the back of the building.

ABC 17 News previously reported inspection reports from the City of Columbia noted numerous trusses burned through, a sagging roof and damage to wood storage area located in the back of the restaurant.

CFD said the fire was brought under control within 25 minutes. The report said cracks were found in the walls and crews were removed from that immediate area. There were 12 CFD crews for a total of 25 personnel.

Heidenreich said he is proud of his department for proactively responding to this fire. He said if people have a concern about a warming fire that looks too close to a building they can call 911 for emergencies or 311 for non-emergencies.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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