A BUSY town centre street was cordoned off as fire crews tackled a blaze at an Indian restaurant which was due to open to the public tonight.
The Curry House restaurant and takeaway, in York Road, Hartlepool, was expected to open its doors this evening.
But just 24 hours before the grand opening, a fire broke out in the kitchen area at around 5pm. No-one was in the building at the time of the blaze, but the kitchen and other areas of the restaurant were badly damaged by smoke.
Fire chiefs have now launched an investigation to determine what started the fire.
Firefighters from Hartlepool’s Stranton station attended the incident, which saw a section of York Road, between Middleton Grange Lane and Elliott Street, closed for an hour while emergency services dealt with the fire.
A banner on the side of the building read Opening Soon Under New Management.
Noshad Ahmed, the owner of the restaurant, said: “We don’t know how it’s happened because nobody was in the premises at the time.
“It could be anything. The best thing is that no-one was hurt.”
Grocery shop worker Uddim Myn, 50, who lives off Hart Lane, is a friend of the owners and he was at the scene.
The married dad-of-four said: “It is very sad that this has happened.”
Danny Atkinson, a bingo operative at Carlton Bingo which is directly opposite the new restaurant, said he could smell the smoke from across the road.
The 20-year-old, who lives on the Bishop Cuthbert estate, said: “I could smell smoke and rushed to our kitchens as I thought it was coming from there.
“I saw that it wasn’t and headed outside and saw the thick smoke inside the restaurant.
“The fire brigade were soon on the scene and they smashed the front door to the restaurant. There was a lot of smoke pouring out.”
Four fire appliances, including 20 firefighters, and several police vehicles were called to the scene at 4.30pm last night.
Ian Brown, watch manager at Stranton Fire Station, said: “When we arrived there was smoke coming out of the rear of the restaurant, downstairs initially.
“The owner’s wife was outside and it was initially feared that her husband was inside but everybody was quickly accounted for.
“The fire was in the ground floor kitchen and the cause is under investigation.
“There was substantial smoke damage to the kitchen and light smoke damage to the rest of the building.”
The cooking unit was also damaged by fire.
Six firefighters using breathing equipment searched the rest of the property.