Suspicious Blaze Destroys Restaurant in Burbank : Fire: Authorities are looking for evidence of arson after Castaway suffers $1 million in damage. Landmark was a popular spot for wedding receptions, prom parties.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Burbank landmark was destroyed Tuesday morning when a blaze burned down the Castaway restaurant atop the Verdugo Hills, gutting the business noted for its breathtaking hillside view and prompting an arson investigation.

"Some things are suspicious about this fire," said Burbank Fire Capt. Steve Patterson.

A dog trained to detect 18 types of incendiary liquids led arson investigators to a can of the type that usually contains paint, Patterson said. Unusual burn patterns were discovered nearby, he said.

Fire Marshal Darryl Forbes said several factors made the fire suspicious, including the advanced stage of the blaze when firefighters arrived and the horizontal direction that the flames burned, indicating they may have followed an incendiary liquid.

Authorities were alerted to the fire at 3:17 a.m. when an infrared heat-sensing burglar alarm went off inside the restaurant on the grounds of the De Bell Municipal Golf Course.

Firefighters arrived about 15 minutes later to battle the blaze that gutted the dining area and left only a wooden skeleton of the kitchen. A ballroom attached to the restaurant suffered water and smoke damage. Another ballroom, next to the restaurant, was not damaged.

The fire caused at least $1 million in damage to the structure and an undetermined amount to its contents, Forbes said. No injuries were reported.

Patterson said that low water pressure made it difficult to fight the blaze, but it did not seriously hamper the efforts of about 70 firefighters who extinguished the flames in 90 minutes with the help of two water-dropping helicopters. The restaurant, located on Harvard Road, did not have automatic fire sprinklers, Forbes said.

"This has a terrible impact on us as a company, but it also has an impact on the people who have come here for their proms and weddings," said John Rader, divisional manager of Specialty Restaurants Corp., which owns and operates the Castaway. "It's just a very, very special spot for a lot of people. When you see something like this you're devastated."

Rader said his company plans to rebuild the 31-year-old restaurant. As employees heard of the fire, dozens arrived to solemnly watch crews clean up the wreckage.

"The Castaway was the best restaurant in town," said Debi Dodge, a cocktail waitress and one of more than 200 people left unemployed by the fire. "Now it's nothing. . . . It's horrible."

Rader said his company will try to help customers who had booked events at the Castaway to relocate their events to one of his company's other 11 restaurants throughout Southern California.

Theodore X. Garcia, vice president of the Burbank Historical Society, described the restaurant as a sentimental landmark, which was nearly two decades short of the 50 years needed to be deemed of historic interest.

"It was historical in the memories that all the people had of all the functions held at the Castaway," Garcia said. "Everybody I know has had a graduation ceremony or wedding or something up there."

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