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Garden Grove : Gas Line Explosion Destroys Restaurant

An explosion that was apparently caused by a leaking natural gas line destroyed a restaurant in Garden Grove early Friday and almost spread to adjoining businesses before firefighters halted the flames.

Police officers at the city’s substation in the Buena Clinton area, situated a block from the Shakshuka restaurant, 12655 Westminster Ave., were on the scene shortly after hearing an explosion. They reported that the blast sent a fireball through the roof of the building and that the restaurant was engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived at about 2:36 a.m.

“It had to be quite an explosion because there was glass blown up to 75 feet in all directions from the building,” fire division chief Vince Bonacker said. It took 19 firefighters 1 hour and 24 minutes to put out the fire, which spread through the attic in the shopping center and caused some damage to an adjoining vacant store, he said.

There was no damage to the center’s other businesses, including a meat shop and a bakery at the far end of the L-shaped building. Losses to the restaurant and center were estimated at $250,000, Bonacker said.

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“It (the explosion) rattled my garage door so loud I thought someone was breaking in,” said a resident of nearby Roxy Drive. She added that firefighters could not prevent a total loss because “it went up so quick.”

Bonacker said the Orange County Sheriff Department’s bomb squad was called out to investigate but found no evidence of an explosive device. With the assistance of gas company workers, fire investigators determined the cause of the blast to be a malfunctioning shut-off valve in a gas line, he said.

The malfunction was in a “concealed space” where it appeared that restaurant workers may have inadvertently damaged the line while cleaning up. “At this point, we have no reason to suspect arson,” Bonacker said. “But the investigation is continuing.”

Restaurant owner Gil Harlap was not available for comment. Center owner Steven Acosta said the restaurant used to be a Winchell’s Donut House and that Harlap converted it to a restaurant serving Jewish food.

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When the business did not thrive with the ethnic fare, Harlap converted it to an American restaurant, he said. Acosta said that he expects the center’s insurance to cover the loss and allow the proprietors to rebuild.


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