Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Smoke billows from the Great Wall Buffet in Sparta Tuesday, Dec. 29. Herald photo by Pat MulvaneyFirefighters extinguish a chimney fire that spread to the roof of a Town of Leon home Jan. 1. Contributed photo

Great Wall Buffet damaged in Dec. 29 blaze

Firefighters also respond to New Year’s Day house fire in Leon

The Great Wall Buffet in Sparta suffered heavy fire and smoke damage Tuesday, Dec. 29, after a fire started in the kitchen.

The blaze was one of two structure fires the Sparta Area Fire District responded to last week. They also battled a blaze at a Town of Leon home New Year’s Day, where the sole occupant escaped unharmed.

Firefighters responded the Great Wall Buffet, located at 516 West Wisconsin Street, around 4 p.m. after a bartender at the Wayside Tavern across the street saw smoke pouring from the building and called 911, according to Fire Chief Mike Arnold.

He said when he arrived, the restaurant staff, which was cooking to-go orders in the kitchen, were outside the building and the fire had progressed into the ceiling and roof.

Freighters had the flames under control within 30 minutes and remained on the scene for three hours. The fire caused extensive damage to the kitchen area while the rest of the building sustained smoke and water damage.

According to Arnold, the fire started in the kitchen but the cause of the blaze is still under investigation. He said a language barrier between the kitchen staff and owner is hindering the investigation. The owner Kui Zhang.

The Sparta Area Fire District was assisted by the Sparta Police Department, Fort McCoy Fire Department, Sparta Ambulance Service, Sparta Department of Public Works, Monroe County Sheriff's Office and Monroe County 911 Center.

Arnold said fire crews responded to the Town of Leon blaze at 1:13 a.m. Jan. 1, for a reported chimney fire. When he arrived at 19964 Kale Rd., the flames had spread to the roof of the log home and  the homeowner, Ben Hesselberg, was trying to douse the flames with a garden hose.

Fire crews extinguished the fire in 20 minutes and were on the scene for 3 hours checking for hot spots.

According to Arnold, Hesselberg informed him that he came home around 11:30 p.m. News Year’s Eve and put some wood in the fireplace before going to bed. He awoke around 1 a.m. to the sound of crackling and discovered flames coming from his chimney and roof area and called 911.

The log home sustained extensive damage around the chimney and roof area. It also sustained moderate smoke and water damage. The home is insured.

The Fire Department was assisted by the Sparta Ambulance Service, Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the Monroe County 911 Center.

On Sunday at 5 a.m., the fire department responded to another call at 919 W. Main St., where, according to Arnold, the occupant of the house, George Lundahl, had fallen asleep with food on the stove. When the fire crew arrived, the fire was out but the residence was filled with smoke.

Firefighters ventilated the house and cleared the scene in an hour.

Evans Print & Media Group

1302 River Rd.
P.O. Box 252

Sparta, WI 54656-0252

Office Number: (608) 269-3186
Fax Number: (608) 269-6876


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