A five-alarm fire that started at or near an Indian restaurant ripped through a small Santa Clara strip mall early Wednesday, injuring no one, but severely damaging at least seven businesses, the city's fire chief said.
The news devastated the employees and owners of about 12 restaurants and shops who call the Rancho Shopping Center, at 3402 El Camino Real in the city's unofficial Koreatown district, their home.
"I just can't believe it, I just can't believe it," Parul Patel said before bursting into tears. She and her husband, Prakash, own Radhe Chaat, which advertises kosher, Indian, vegetarian fare. "I just don't know what we're going to do."
Shops in this nondescript mall along the city's main drag included a dentist, foot spa, Kumar jewelers, Seoul Rice Cake, Korean Hair Salon and My Style Boutique.
How the blaze actually started about 3 a.m. was not fully explained. A volunteer unit helping the firefighters flew a drone overhead to try to determine from above how to best quell the flames.
Fire Chief Bill Kelly said that the fire's quick spread was no surprise as the L-shaped building is about 60 years old.
He said if there is any good news, it looks like 40 percent of the strip mall will be saved. The fifth-alarm was called about 4:30 a.m and fire crews were forced to battle the flames for about four hours.
Deuk Lee, owner of Akira's Sushi, was leaving his restaurant in the wee hours of the morning when he spotted smoke coming from an Indian restaurant in the mall. He immediately called 911. He said his business of two years was not completely destroyed in the fire, but all his power was cut off. That's horrible news for a sushi restaurant owner, he said, adding that he fears all his fish is now inedible.
Lee also owns a karaoke lounge in the mall, and was in escrow to sell it next week. He's now unsure if the sale will move forward.
Donna Maruoka, owner of Roundhill Studios, showed up early Wednesday morning after her alarm company called her. She was relieved that her dance studio of 10 years was not completely destroyed, although she and firefighters hadn't yet gone in to assess the damage.
"Oh, I was dreading it," she said. "I didn't know what to expect. We've been here since 4 o'clock this morning and watched the firefighters battle the fire down, and as it got further and further into the morning, I saw the fire had pretty much stopped about 20 feet from my unit."
Despite being "quite relieved," Maruoka called the whole scene "really quite shocking."
Maruoka said her studio had been planning a 30th-anniversary performance in June. Now, she said she doesn't know where the show will be held. "It's heartbreaking," she said.
As for traffic, El Camino Real wasexpected closed for several hours as firefighters have to find water in other parts of the city as the hydrants in this section of Santa Clara is quite old. VTA bus service was also affected in the area.