Raleigh, N.C. — A popular downtown bar was destroyed Wednesday morning after flames ripped through the one-story building in Raleigh's Glenwood South district.
Crews were called to put out what was initially reported as a grease fire at Hibernian Pub, at 311 Glenwood Ave., at 10:20 a.m. Wednesday.
Firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading to nearby businesses, which were expected to stay closed Wednesday to be assessed for damage. Some did suffer minor damage, such as broken windows.
Glenwood Avenue was blocked Wednesday night, but reopened Thursday morning.
Although a preliminary investigation found the fire was accidental, fire officials said they are not finished with their investigation.
Employees, they said, turned on the fryers Wednesday morning, walked away briefly and then returned to flames.
Although there was no sprinkler system in the building, fire investigators said a fire suppression system in the kitchen put out the fire. By that time, however, it had spread to the walls and ceiling.
The three workers inside were able to escape without injury.
Chris Jepsen, who lives near the pub, was in his apartment when he smelled smoke shortly before 11 a.m.
"I thought it was my place, so I immediately went outside, and it was like fog," he said. "You couldn't even see across the street. As the breeze blew and it cleared, I could see plumes of smoke coming from the Hibernian."
Debra Geer also lives nearby.
"I was sick when I drove home from work and saw that the building was just totally demolished," she said. "It just made me sick."
Hibernian Pub owner Niall Hanley said he was "heartbroken" by the fire and plans to rebuild.
According to its Facebook page, Hibernian opened in downtown Raleigh in May 2000, becoming an anchor for Glenwood South's economic revival.
"I've been looking at this place forever," Jepsen said. "It was like the first landmark on Glenwood South."
"I can tell you right now that even the employees, many have been here since it opened," said former Hibernian employee Jennifer Leshney. "I'm pretty sure a piece of their heart is missing. It's going to be a piece of downtown missing."
Alex Amra, who owns Tobacco Road, across the street from the pub, said the fire now leaves a black mark for all businesses, which support and complement each other.
"My clientele stumbles their way to the Hibernian, and the Hibernian clientele stumbles their way over to Tobacco Road," he said. "Yeah, we're all in competition, absolutely, but on a need basis. We all need each other."
Although there is a Hibernian in Cary and another expected to open on Falls of Neuse Road in north Raleigh, customers, like Jepsen, say the Glenwood location drew in regulars, who are like family.
"It's a friendly atmosphere. It's a friendly neighborhood and a sad day, in that regard," Jepsen said. "My prayers will be with them, and I hope things will get better in our new year."
"I have many friends who come here three or four nights a week. It has built a rapport of regulars," Leshney said. "It's a home for so many people."
Leshney has started a Facebook page, called "Team Hibernian Nation," in support of the pub.