FAIRFIELD — Hundreds of spectators stood aghast Friday night as heavy flames burst from windows of Pepperbelly’s Comedy Club and smoke engulfed the building.
Many longtime Fairfield residents were shocked as they watched flames race through and gut one of Fairfield’s oldest, most beloved sites.
“Pepperbelly’s is finished,” said John Davins as he watched the fire grow.
The fire was reported about 6:45 p.m. by someone inside. Sirens went off and all Pepperbelly’s employees were safely evacuated before police came to the scene and assessed the situation.
More than 20 fire engines from all over Solano County arrived to battle the five-alarm fire.
Fairfield Fire Chief Vince Webster said firefighters were initially able to go inside but were unable to find the source of the fire. As the fire and heat grew quickly and smoked thickened, firefighters backed out and ran out of theater yelling “get out.”
From there, firefighters fought the fire from the outside and above, trying to keep the fire from spreading to adjacent buildings. So much water was shot onto and into the building that the city called in Public Works Department crews to deal with flooding.
Fairfield’s first movie theater, which opened in 1921, was at the location of Pepperbelly’s. It was refurbished in 1945 as the Solano Theater and in 1974, it changed its name to Fairfield Cinema 1. After the movie theater closed in the 1990s, it was closed until it reopening as a comedy club and has since been run by multiple operators.
Friday’s fire came a year and 12 days after a massive blaze burned a large office building at 744 Empire St., just two blocks away.
Webster said because the structure was older, the fire spread faster, though there were no major at-risk materials in the building. He said he believes the source of the fire was inside the second story, but firefighters had still not found the source of the fire late Friday night.
It is unknown if there was any damage to nearby buildings.
Pepperbelly’s has hosted many big-name comics, including Dana Carvey, Bill Bellamy, DC Curry, Tommy Davidson, DL Hughly and Christopher Titus. Davidson, Dustin Diamond and Jimmy Walker were among the comedians scheduled to appear at the club in coming weeks.
A number of people showed up to catch a show by comedian Honest John, but instead watched from the sidewalks as Pepperbelly’s burned.
Jason and Natalia Diavatis were two of those who came for the show. Natalia Diavatis stood outside for a while taking pictures of poles on fire and musing with her husband about the source of the fire.
The couple moved inside Miko’s Japanese Cuisine, kitty corner to the fire. Jason Diavatis said his sister Wendy, who owns Truffle Berries down the street, was worried about her business.
A large crowd at the corner of Jackson Street and Texas Street gasped as flames burst from the roof and smoke flooded the streets.
Bill Kittle, an employee of Solano Window Fashions just down the block from Pepperbelly’s, said he was thankful that firefighters responded so quickly.
“This is an old wood structure,” Kittle said. “The fact that the Fire Department kept it from growing shows how great our Fire Department is.”
On the west side of the Pepperbelly’s is a large mural, painted in the summer of 2005, depicting Solano County’s history. Sherwood Lunsted stood watching along Texas Street, shaking his head as the mural was slowly destroyed.
“It’s such a beautiful mural . . . such an old building,” he said. “It’s too bad.”
A little after 10 p.m., fire officials reported that the entire roof of Pepperbelly’s had collapsed and there was no visible fire.
Reach Heather Ah San at 427-6977 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/HeatherMalia.