The recent fire that severely damaged the Chili's Bar and Grill in Highlands Ranch was the result of hot patchwork being done on the roof, said Littleton Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jackie Erwin.
"(Roofers) tried to pull up the patch and use fire extinguishers to extinguish the fire. Employees inside the restaurant noticed smoke coming through vents in the kitchen and evacuated the restaurant," Erwin said in an email correspondence. "Fire spread rapidly through the space between the roof and the ceiling. The building is a complete loss."
Ed Smith, who works at Service Street, a car repair shop just south of Chili's, said "it was a smolder, and then it was engulfed."
The Dec. 27 fire left the structure of the restaurant at University Boulevard and County Line Road standing but its windows shattered, ceiling caved in and interior filled with black ash and soot.
The fire started at about 2:30 p.m., and by 5 p.m. crews were able to get it under control, Erwin said. South Metro Fire Rescue assisted the Littleton department in battling the blaze.
Heavy smoke prompted the closure of University in both directions, starting at about 3:45 p.m. and continuing until about 8 p.m.
No injuries were reported. All employees and customers were able to get out of the building within about five minutes, Erwin said.
“The minute staff recognized something was wrong, they got everyone out of the premises,” she said. “They did a great job of getting everyone out of the building.”
Alan Blaine, IT marketing director at Spa Palace Hot Tubs & Billiards, a store just west of the restaurant, frequented Chili's for lunch and happy hour. He said he saw about 30 people leave the building after the fire alarm. In days following, he saw employees visit the site of the fire.
"They were hugging and crying," he said.
Chili's, a national restaurant chain, released a statement Dec. 28 prioritizing the well-being of its staff and customers. Employees will be sent to other locations, a spokesperson said. Chili's has nearby restaurants in Lone Tree, Sheridan and south Jefferson County.
“At Chili's, we're family, and the safety of our team's members and guests is always our top priority," the statement says. "We are so grateful everyone was safely evacuated ... Immediately after ensuring everyone was safely evacuated, we began looking into ways to take care of our ChiliHeads by providing them the opportunity to work at other Chili's restaurants in the area."
Chili's is owned by Texas-based Brinker International, which also owns Maggiano's Little Italy restaurants.