Crews extinguish ‘heavy fire’ at Bigg’s on Mass

Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical crews battled flames at Bigg’s on Mass, 719 Massachusetts St., for most of the afternoon Tuesday.

Thick smoke billowed from the back of the building, and flames in the barbecue restaurant’s kitchen area could be seen from the back alley. The fire climbed the wall to the ceiling, and large amounts of smoke permeated several offices on the top level of the building. Upon arrival, fire officials called an immediate second and third alarm, Division Chief Eve Tolefree said. Officials also requested additional help from Johnson County.

A stretch of Massachusetts Street, from Seventh to Eighth streets, was blocked off throughout the afternoon. Bigg’s and two neighboring businesses, Lady Bird Diner and Sweet!, were evacuated safely, Tolefree said. No one was injured in the fire, Tolefree said, though one firefighter was treated for minor injuries.

Shortly after 2:30 p.m., crews reported the situation “under control.” Around 3 p.m., they began ventilating the restaurant and surrounding businesses.

On Nov. 20, smoke emerged from the same area in the back section of Bigg’s and firefighters were called. At that time, Bigg’s owner Doug Holiday said the response was “much ado about nothing” and that the restaurant’s smoker had caused a small grease fire. Holiday had said that fire was extinguished prior to firefighters’ arrival.

Hairstylist Lynn Kelley, whose salon sits above of the area in Bigg’s that was most affected by the fire, said she was in the building when the fire broke out. Kelley said that because the previous fire turned out to be “nothing,” another second-floor business owner “didn’t take the alarm seriously.”

“I yelled for her to leave the building. The carpet area near the back of the building was black with smoke,” Kelley said.

Several business owners waited for firefighters to let them in one at a time around 4 p.m. Tuesday to recover a few necessities from their offices. Lawrence attorney Branden Smith, who’s representing a Eudora man charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in Douglas County District Court next week, said he was able to grab a few files from his office above Bigg’s.

Bigg’s is located several buildings to the north of Jefferson’s Restaurant, 743 Massachusetts St., which remains closed after a fire in January. Sweet! co-owner Susan Hess said when that fire occurred she and her business partner discussed “how awful” it would be to be a neighboring business. Tuesday, she learned how awful it actually was.

“When the alarm started going off, I said, ‘Oh, no,'” Hess said.

Hess said the back of her store at 717 Massachusetts St. had filled with smoke. She began moving things from the back of the store to the front in case fire spread, but soon she “grabbed the money” and ran from the building.

Damage estimates for the affected businesses were not available Tuesday evening. Investigators remained on the scene as of 5 p.m. Tolefree said fire sprinkler activation inside the restaurant aided in preventing the fire from spreading farther than it did.

Holiday said he would like to reopen his restaurant as early as Saturday.

“We hope to reopen this weekend, if not, as soon as possible,” Bigg’s posted to its Facebook page Tuesday evening. “Thank you to everyone who has sent kind words our way.”

Updates from Twitter (if on mobile, click here to view tweets):

Several downtown businesses took to Twitter to express concern for their neighbors in the 700 block of Mass.