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Fire investigators late Saturday were still seeking a cause for an early morning fire that destroyed the Olive Garden restaurant on McKinley Parkway in Blasdell.

The stubborn fire burned for more than four hours before volunteers firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze, which started shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday. Firefighters were first called to the scene at 1:03 a.m.

“The problem with this fire is the construction of the building, the way that the roof is laid out, the false walls (and) the false roofline there,” said Newton-Abbott Fire Department Chief Brian Evaldi.

He said the restaurant closed for the night at about 12:30 a.m.

When crews from Newton-Abbott arrived on the scene, flames were shooting through the roof, preventing firefighters from entering the building. Firefighters used a ladder truck to aim jets of water at the blaze, which was whipped by winds and burned for several more hours.

Evaldi said the fact that the fire was burning inside the roof made it particularly cumbersome for firefighters to get at the blaze.

“They had a heavy weightload on the roof, with all the HVAC units, which really compromised the integrity of the roof. It started bowing. We pulled the guys out, knowing it was not safe and we had to go on a defensive attack on that,” Evaldi added.

More than 12 hours after the fire had been extinguished, crews from Newton-Abbott and other nearby fire companies continued to sift through the wreckage, looking for clues as to what may have sparked the fire. Caution tape around the perimeter of building and its parking lot kept curious onlookers and those shopping at other nearby businesses from entering the scene.

Evaldi said there was no damage estimate Saturday evening, but he described the building as a total loss, noting that it will eventually be demolished.

Earlier in the day, Olive Garden released a statement:

“We are extremely thankful no one was inside the restaurant at the time of the fire. We appreciate the efforts of the Blasdell firefighters and are grateful they are all safe. Right now, the well-being of our team members is our number one priority. We are already working to place them at other Olive Garden locations, as well as other Garden restaurants, in the area, as we assess the damage to the restaurant.”

Coincidentally, that area of McKinley – populated by dozens of big box, chain stores – has in recent months been the site of newsworthy events. The Olive Garden is a few yards south of where Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Marcell Dareus late last month allegedly crashed a white Jaguar into a tree, by the Mongolian Buffet Restaurant.

Also nearby is the Toys R Us, where last summer assistant store manager Laurence C. “Larry” Wells II was killed by loss/prevention manager Bernard T. Grucza.

email: amansfield@buffnews.com and hmcneil@buffnews.com