Wellsboro restaurant damaged in smoky Monday morning fire

LONNIE FROST/Sun-Gazette Correspondent A fire early Monday morning heavily damaged the Frog Hut Restaurant at 132 Tioga St. in Wellsboro. Firefighters were on the scene for about 90 minutes battling the blaze, Wellsboro Fire Chief Lonnie Campbell said.

WELLSBORO — The Frog Hut Restaurant, 132 Tioga St., a popular ice cream and fast-food drive-in restaurant, sustained “heavy smoke damage” as the result of  a fire early Monday morning.

Wellsboro Fire Chief Lonnie Campbell said the fire was called in by employees of the Nittany Minit Mart located directly across the street.

The business, owned by Rick and Wendy Joachim, of Wellsboro, had closed for the season just last week, Campbell said, and no one was there when the fire broke out shortly after 7 a.m.

“The dispatch indicated there was smoke showing but no visible flames,” Campbell said.

When Campbell and Wellsboro’s first engine crew arrived on scene there was “a lot of heavy smoke pushing from the air handlers on the roof and windows around the building.”

“The large windows were completely blackened out. We had to force entry so we had to take out a large glass door at the main entry,” Campbell said.

The first crew encountered “extensive heat and very dense smoke inside the building,” he said.

“They did locate visible fire in kitchen area to the right. A lot of material had already fallen to the floor and they determined the main fire was in the ceiling area of the kitchen,” Campbell said.

As for a cause, Campbell said “we are leaning toward electrical in nature, but there was no reason to call the fire marshal, because we believe it was accidental in nature.”

The cinder block building has been in that location for decades, Campbell said, and was formerly a Tastee Freeze ice cream store.

Campbell said he believes without looking at the roof area that the building probably is structurally repairable.

“But I’m not sure how insurance companies make a determination. There is heavy damage to the contents, and smoke and heat damage throughout,” he said.

Campbell said crews were “able to knock the fire down and call it under control in the first 15 minutes, but we had to continue pulling the ceiling down to make sure there wasn’t anything we had missed.”

About 25 firefighters from Wellsboro and Middlebury fire departments were on scene for about 90 minutes, with traffic control provided by borough police and state Department of Transportation crews.