SEAL BEACH – Black smoke filled the sky and flames burned bright orange Friday morning as a fire inside the closed Ruby’s Diner at the end of the Seal Beach Pier burned for more than an hour, and was initially extinguished, although flames flared up again inside the building around 10:45 a.m.
A fire started around 7:35 a.m. inside the restaurant, and firefighters were pumping water through standpipes at the end of the pier to try to contain the fire, but it spread underneath, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi said.
Four fire boats from Long Beach Fire Department, one from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Seal Beach Marine Safety responded to assist from the ocean, Concialdi said. Originally eight boats were called to help, but some didn’t make it.
About 70 firefighters from OCFA, Long Beach and Huntington Beach also responded.
The fire was initially knocked down at 9:05 a.m., Concialdi said, but flames re-emerged around 10:45 a.m.
“The pier does not have stability issues, but the structure has been destroyed,” Concialdi said at 11 a.m.
At some point Friday morning, a standpipe at the end of the pier malfunctioned, causing firefighters to rely more heavily on about 2,000 feet of hoses to battle the flames, Concialdi said.
“The pier is a quarter-mile long,” OCFA Capt. Larry Kurtz said. “(Firefighters) have to lay down hose all the way to the building by hand and each of those rolls weighs about 90 pounds. It’s very taxing work.”
A firefighter was injured while battling the blaze and was taken to Los Alamitos Medical Center, Concialdi said.
OCFA and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigators began examining the charred remains of Ruby’s Diner and an adjacent structure around 11:30 a.m., although the buildings were still smoldering and roofs completely caved in.
Fire officials were investigating the charred remains of the building after the flames were extinguished. It was unclear how long it would take to determine a cause.
Electrical, gas and water lines run under the pier’s wooden planks and it was an electrical writing short that caused a fire that badly burned the pier on May 15, 1992.
Ruby’s Diner closed in January 2013, and the building has been vacant and fenced off since then.
Michael Pless Jr., one of the owners of M&M Surfing School based in Seal Beach, said he was surfing when he smelled smoke before seeing flames under the pier.
“Do I smell something cooking?” he said he thought when he smelled the fire.
Shortly after, Pless Jr. said he saw six firefighters hanging off a Seal Beach Police Department patrol car speeding toward the fire.
David Gillispie, 26, was surfing with Pless Jr. and was about 200 feet away from the pier when the fire started.
“There were chunks of wood falling into the water,” Gillispie said.
Robert Christiansen, 61 of Anaheim, was sitting on his beach chair facing the ocean when he spotted the smoke.
“I thought ‘Maybe they’re doing some sort of control clean-up fire; I hope it’s not what I think it is,” he said.
But then he saw the smoke building up, and emergency crews arriving.
Firefighters told the fishermen and pedestrians on the pier to vacate as the smoke continued to build.
“It’s pretty serious; hopefully they’ll get it under control,” Christiansen said.
Rachel Kuryan, who lives nearby, walked out to see the fire with her dog and fiancee.
She said some of her fondest childhood memories involve going to the Seal Beach Pier with her family.
“(Ruby’s) is where my mom would come for her birthday,” Kuryan said. “She doesn’t even like hamburgers.”
Kuryan hopes the pier, which is the second longest wooden pier in California, will be restored.
“The good news, it’s a small section of the pier and hopefully it will be open very soon,” Kurtz said.