Mitchell community already rallying for employees of fire-destroyed Perkins

Mitchell community already rallying for employees of fire-destroyed Perkins
Mitchell community already rallying for employees of fire-destroyed Perkins(Dakota News Now)
Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 7:43 PM CST
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MITCHELL, S.D. (Dakota News Now) — More than 12 hours after one of the most destructive blazes the city of Mitchell has seen, a fire crew was still dousing the smolder of the destroyed Perkins Restaurant. The fire marshal deemed the building a complete loss.

“The good news, if there is any good news, is no one was hurt,” said Geri Beck, Mitchell Chamber of Commerce CEO. “We didn’t lose anybody from Mitchell. Thank God.”

While nobody was in the building during the blaze — and no firefighters reported injuries — at least 40 Perkins employees instantly lost their jobs, most of them full-time.

Within hours after sunrise, Beck’s chamber and the city’s restaurant community were already picking up the pieces for those workers.

“We’ve already been in conversation with the Department of Labor, and once we understand how many people woke up this morning without jobs, we’ll get them placed in Mitchell,” Beck said. “I know Culver’s is looking for people. I’ve talked to other people that would be glad to have these people be part of their workforce.”

One of them is Stephanie Vaughan, co-owner of The Depot Pub and Grill downtown.

“Mitchell’s a community where we rally together when something happens,” Vaughan said. “This is right before a holiday and, a lot of times, people in this industry work paycheck to paycheck. So, we definitely want to help out and do the best we can.”

Vaughan heard the fire truck sirens around midnight from her home in Mitchell and found out about the blaze from a local social media reporting site. She had the same reaction as many in the city of nearly 16,000 people.

“It’s devastating,” Vaughan said. “For a person owning a restaurant, this is your worst nightmare. Not only that, you feel for the staff. A lot of our staff people are like family, and it’s just so hard to see this happen. And, it’s devastating for the community, as well.”

Beck later on Wednesday evening told Dakota News Now she had received word from Perkins management that the company plans to rebuild the restaurant as soon as possible.

Mitchell Fire Marshal Shannon Sandoval was notified of a couple of 911 calls just after midnight. By 12:25, he and a rescue crew of about 15 arrived to find shattered windows and smoke coming from the roof and all four corners of the building. The roof eventually caved in, and the only part of the structure that held in tact was the four walls.

Between them, a mountain of wreckage sits. Beyond them, plenty of shattered glass and burnt debris sits on the property on bustling Burr Street, just off the I-90 exit.

”Severity-wise, it’s one of the worst (fires) we’ve ever had here in town,” said Sandoval, who has worked a collective 15 years for Mitchell Fire Department, including the last decade.

”Unfortunately, it got a head start on us before we got here, making it more difficult to get firefighters inside the building.”

The conditions were too dangerous for rescue workers to go inside, so they attacked from the outside. It wasn’t long before Sandoval called in 20 more rescue workers from surrounding towns Ethan, Mount Vernon, and Alexandria. A total of 10 different trucks, several hoses, and 35 firefighters took two hours to contain the inferno.

Sandoval also called in the state fire marshal and the Department of Criminal Investigation, which brought its K9 unit dogs to detect whether accelerants, such as gasoline, were used to start the fire. This is a standard procedure for damages of this magnitude, Sandoval said.

So, what have detectives found?

“Nothing yet,” Sandoval said. “With something like this, we have to remove big items to dig to the floor, and we are attempting to recreate a couple rooms so we can get an idea of what the floor looked like — what the contents were. It will be able to give us a direction of the fire pattern.”

As of now, there is no reason to believe there was criminal activity involved, but the cause and origin of the fire are still under investigation, Sandoval said.

“The southwest corner of the building has the majority of the damage,” Sandoval said. “It’s near the kitchen, and there’s storage back there, as well. That’s going to be another thing for us. It’s going to be difficult to get to the kitchen appliances and check those. It’s going to take some time. There may be some heavy equipment (to lift), but we’ll get there.”

Because of the gargantuan pile of rubble to sort, the investigation is expected to take another three or four days.

One thing Sandoval could clear up was any speculation — which circulated on social media — that the city did not have enough water supply to handle the fire.

“Because of the amount of apparatuses that we had — and the amount of hose that we had coming in from the apparatuses — the two hydrants that were close to those were maxed out,” Sandoval explained. “They were giving us the most that they could give. So, when it goes from the fire hydrant to the fire truck to the hose, that pressure just decreases and decreases. So, we had plenty of water for the fire. The hydrants were at max capacity. If we would have had three more hydrants and seven more fire trucks, the outcome of the building would have remained the same.”

In fact, Sandoval said, the city put in a new water main all up and down Burr Street about five years ago.

The fire marshal was grateful for the help of the Salvation Army, which provided on sight food and water for the firefighters. Also, he wanted to thank Davison County Search and Rescue for providing trailers for the workers to take a break from smoke inhalation.

Meanwhile, Vaughan said she is confident that jobs are coming for newly unemployed restaurant workers. She predicts eateries in the city will work with each other to find the former Perkins employees a home.

“Having good, viable restaurants in town is what we need, and it’s good, healthy competition for our own restaurant,” Vaughan said. “We also have a good restaurant community in town that, we all kind of know each other. And, so, perhaps, if I can’t I can’t take somebody on, it could be somebody down the road. Or, I can reach out and try to help because that’s exactly what we want to see, and we can keep good people in the industry.”

This is the fourth eatery Mitchell has lost in the last few months. Whiskey Creek, Burger King, and Hardee’s all recently closed. Sandoval noted the dent that the Perkins closure will put in the city’s tax revenue.

“Certainly, this is a big hit to those of us who eat out,” Beck said. “But, we do know there are people who are looking for properties who are interested in starting restaurants. We’ve had two new restaurants open in the last six months.”

Beck mentioned that Mitchell is not the only city in the region that has experienced the loss of multiple dining options the last couple of years. She is still optimistic about Mitchell’s culinary future.

“We’re going to make lemonade out of these lemons and do the best we can,” Beck said.