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November 30, 2008
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St. Petersburg Times: August, 21st, 2001 (An Actual News Item)

Life imitates art - that is, the creative minds of the FOD contributers. You just can't write this stuff and do it justice.

Enjoy,

Jimbo

ST. PETERSBURG -- A deep fryer at Red's Snak Shak caught fire Thursday, causing $50,000 in damage and closing the restaurant famous for its fried chicken gizzards.

 Grease in the hood and chimney, which was three months overdue for a cleaning, ignited and fueled the flames, fire officials said.

"There goes eatin' Red's for awhile," said Bruce Barron, who repairs car radiators next door.

No one was hurt in the fire, which started at 9:30 a.m. at 1701 16th St. S. But it is a setback for stores along the struggling 16th Street S business district.

For years, the business corridor has been central to the city's efforts to revitalize economically depressed neighborhoods south of Tropicana Field.

"Red's is a fixture there," said David Welch, an accountant, former City Council member and 35-year 16th Street S business owner. "We're going to miss him for a little while."

The owner of Red's, Clayton "Red" Ferguson, was vacationing in New York and could not be reached for comment. His son went to the business Thursday after he learned of the fire.

Dean Ferguson, whose father opened the St. Petersburg staple 26 years ago, said his father would want to reopen. The exterior structure was not damaged, but the interior cooking area is ruined.

"First we have to assess what happened and then we'll go from there," said Dean Ferguson, 38.

The city requires that a restaurant's cooking hood and chimney be cleaned and inspected every six months. Red's system was three months overdue.

"It's animal fat. It's very, very flammable grease, and that's why we're so insistent that they keep them clean," said fire Lt. Chris Bengivengo.

Early Thursday, a worker turned on the fryer to heat it to 350 degrees and then left the building, firefighters said.

Barron, the mechanic working on cars next door, saw smoke.

"I thought it was a car or something," he said.

Oil in the fryer had ignited, but a sprinkler system extinguished the flames. Still, the sparks ignited built-up grease in the hood and chimney, causing the fire to spread through the stack, Bengivengo said.

When firefighters arrived, they found 15-foot flames shooting from the chimney stack.

"That's the first thing I said, "No, not Red's,' " fire Capt. Kelley Palenius said.

Customers usually line up outside the takeout window of Red's, "Home of The Big Red Burger." The hours are popular: every day until 3 a.m.

The owner's son did not appear too upset over the turn of bad luck. He said his father has insurance.

"It could happen anyplace," Ferguson said. "The Lord takes care of everything."

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