Pizzeria blaze: 'We might not come back from this', says owner
THE distraught owner of Pizzeria Romana – who has run the St Helier restaurant for nearly three decades – has said he doubts whether the business will ever come back after a devastating fire on Monday.
The owner of the restaurant, Tony Pigliacelli, described having to evacuate the building, including two tables of customers, after discovering the fire upstairs and raising the alarm at around 2pm.
An investigation has been launched after the blaze gutted the restaurant, forcing the evacuation of nearby homes and businesses and sending smoke billowing across the St Helier skyline.
Hundreds of people were stopped in their tracks on King Street, Sand Street, Charing Cross, York Street, The Parade and the surrounding area as the blaze took hold of the grade-three listed 17 Charing Cross – home to Pizzeria Romana – and threatened to spread to nearby buildings.
As the Fire and Rescue Service fought the flames, which were seen leaping from the roof from as far away as Broad Street, the emergency services widened the cordon and closed roads in the area.
The fire service, which is now investigating the blaze, had been forced to break down the door to the former luggage shop next door to access the property. At the height of the fire, four fire engines and an aerial appliance were deployed. No one was injured.
Residents living in Sand Street and as far away as Gloucester Street were urged to close their windows as the smoke spread.
Eyewitnesses described feeling the heat from the fire on their faces and hearing the worrying sound of ‘popping’ from inside the building. Outside, they said they saw staff from the restaurant in tears as they watched the incident unfold.
Mr Pigliacelli has had the business since 1989 and evacuated the building after discovering the fire.
He said the whole upstairs of the restaurant had effectively been destroyed.
‘I heard the alarm so I went up to the back door and the smoke had started coming down the stairs,’ he said.
‘There was no one in the kitchen but there were still two tables of customers so I asked them to leave. I think it started in the kitchen or in the roof space, I’m not sure.
‘It spread really quickly. It’s an old wooden dry roof with really dry wood so it did not take long.’
He added: ‘I am really sad and shocked. There is nothing left upstairs. If we do come back it is going to take a long time. It is listed and was built in 1730 and is one of the oldest buildings in Charing Cross, so it would have to be put back exactly how it was.’
Estate agent Jeremy Le Rossignol, who owns Le Rossignol Estates, had been driving down Broad Street shortly after 2pm when he saw the smoke and was one of the first eyewitnesses on the scene before the emergency services.
He said he could see flames rising from the top of the building and thick plumes of dense black smoke and added: ‘It was eerily quiet. Everyone just stopped in their tracks looking extremely concerned.’
Claire Lawson, who works opposite the restaurant, said: ‘It was about 2.10pm. We noticed smoke by the Co-op, I walked back towards my office and the flames started with thick black smoke, within a short time it was bellowing and appeared to go into the building next door.
‘There were only a few people at that point, the restaurant staff and, I guess, owner was crying and ensuring nobody walked past. Very soon a large crowd congregated and then the fire service arrived. You could feel the heat on your face and people were concerned as we could hear popping noises and see flames dropping to the first floor.’
Colin Letto, from H Letto & Sons Jewellers across the road from the fire, said he saw the fire service break down the door to the former luggage shop next door.
‘One of my staff smelt burning and then we could see smoke coming from Pizzeria Romana,’ he said. ‘It got worse and worse and then we could see flames coming out of the front of it. We were told to stay in the shop by the police with the door closed.’
Saul Webster from the nearby Hectors chip shop said he had been alerted to the incident by people outside. He reported seeing lots of smoke, more than ten firefighters, police and paramedics all on scene.
Zed Stott, store manager of Alliance Tesco, which is two doors down from Pizzeria Romana, said that they began evacuating customers and staff from the store shortly after the fire broke out.
‘We spotted the smoke before the fire service were here and we evacuated the shop at about 2.15pm. Thankfully, no one seems to have been injured and our building does not seem to have been affected but we are not going to re-open until the smoke has dissipated,’ he said.
‘We know the owner and we do talk to them. It is a terrible thing to happen – that is their livelihood – but the main thing is that no one has been injured.’
The nearby Premier Inn hotel said it was unaffected and guests had not been evacuated.
St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft, meanwhile, said the loss of the restaurant would be felt by many.
‘I was in a Scrutiny panel at the time but I was advised by the Town Hall staff very quickly. It is obviously very sad what has happened and someone has lost their business.
‘However, I have not heard of anyone being injured, which is good to hear.’
He added: ‘I think many people will be sad to see it go as it was a very popular restaurant and has been around for quite some time.’
A number of roads had reopened by 4.30pm.
17 Charing Cross
The building is grade 3 listed and described as an ‘early survival in town with a distinctly 18th century character’.
According to its listing status, it is a site of special architectural historical significance that features roof timbers and internal woodwork from the early 18th century.
It adds: ‘Appearance of domestic property historically converted to shop use. The ground and first floors of the front building have now been opened up. Timber beams on the first floor have roll moulded chamfers. The staircase is C20. Original early C18 roof timbers and internal woodwork. The rear structure is stone, the upper level supported by chamfered timber beams. Early C18 origins.’