BRADENTON BEACH – An electrical fire left the Bridge Tender Inn closed for business Wednesday evening, but the damage was apparently limited to the electric meter and the electrical system on the outside of the main building.
Bradenton Beach resident Steve Schewe was at the Bridge Tender Inn’s Dockside Bar shortly after 4 p.m. when the short-lived fire started.
“I was across the street when it suddenly started making huge popping sounds like it was ready to explode. Flames leapt from the breaker box and the pole on the roof,” Schewe said.
City Commissioner Jake Spooner was playing trivia inside the Bridge Tender Inn dining room at the time. The fire that ensued was on the outside wall at the west end of the dining room.
“It was crazy. First the lights dimmed inside and I said, ‘That’s not good.’ Alaska Joe said, ‘This thing’s about to blow.’ We started smelling smoke and everybody was saying ‘Get out of the building,’ ” Spooner said.
“I walked around to the Drift In and that’s when the electric meter blew. There was a flash and a loud bang. It was nuts. They got real lucky,” he added.
Spooner said only the meter box and the feed pole were on fire.
When asked if the outdoor bar remained open, Spooner said, “The fire department made everybody leave the entire premises.”
The Bradenton Beach Police Department was the first to respond. Lt. John Cosby said the fire was contained to the electrical connections at the west end of the building.
“The inside of the restaurant wasn’t damaged other than smoke,” he said.
Bridge Tender Inn manager Shannon Dunnan was there when the fire began, as was owner Fred Bartizal.
“As far as we know the building’s OK. They won’t let me in, so I can’t go and look,” she said.
Fire Marshal’s insight
A few hours later, West Manatee Fire Rescue Fire Marshal Jim Davis discussed what happened.
He said three engine companies from West Manatee responded and another from Longboat Key was canceled en route. Davis said the fire was out by the time they arrived.
“A couple bystanders hit the electrical box with dry chemical extinguishers. There was smoke and we had to check out the whole building. Electricity’s kind of funny. You never know where it’s going to start or end, so we had to check the whole building out to make sure there was no extension,” he said.
“It was definitely electrical and it occurred between the street power where the transformer is and the building’s electrical system. It appears to have occurred from an electrical short in the weatherhead – the pipe that sticks up and has an elbow on the top where the wires come off the pole,” Davis explained.
“The FPL (Florida Power & Light) guy said it looks as though the hot wire where that elbow is got together with the ground wire and energized the ground wire. That caused the power to go back and forth from the building and the pole, increasing the surge every time. It acts as if the building needs more power, so it will keep sending more until something gives.
“The fuse on the pole did what it was supposed to do and gave way, but it had already burned out the electric meter and everything in the box behind the meter,” Davis said.
Davis said the meter cover was thrown more than 10 feet by the power surge.
“You couldn’t even recognize it. It was just a blob of melted plastic,” he said.
“We stood by until Florida Power got there to completely kill the power to the building. Once they did that we were clear to go. When we left, their electrician, United Electric, was already trying to evaluate the situation to get them up and running as soon as possible,” Davis said.
Davis said it was unlikely the Bridge Tender Inn would be open first thing Thursday morning.
He said FPL will not restore power to the building until they check the electrician’s work.
“They won’t put another meter on it until they’re positive everything is ready,” Davis said, noting that Bradenton Beach Building Official Steve Gilbert would also be part of that process.