Around 4 a.m. on Tuesday, the Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) was dispatched to a fire alarm activation indicating a fire sprinkler waterflow at the Castle in the Sand Hotel. While firefighters were responding to the initial call, a second call came in minutes later from hotel staff advising they had investigated the source of the fire alarm activation and could see fire burning in a restaurant in the basement of the lodging establishment.
When firefighters arrived, they found the alarm system sounding and the hotel occupants evacuating. Hotel staff directed OCFD responders to the basement where they found a single fire sprinkler had discharged and extinguished the fire, limiting damage to a small area in the rear of the restaurant. Ocean City Fire Marshal David Hartley credited the hotel’s working and updated fire suppression system for preventing further damage and potential injury.
“A properly functioning fire sprinkler system saved lives and property at the Caste in the Sand this morning,” he said on Tuesday. “The hotel’s diligence in servicing and maintaining its fire protection systems ensured that everything worked properly, which limited the damage and ensured the safe evacuation of hotel occupants.”
Once the fire was suppressed and safety was ensured, hotel occupants returned to their rooms within about 30 minutes of the initial call. The Beach House restaurant in the Castle in the Sand is expected to return to normal business following a brief cleanup.
Fire Marshal’s Office investigators have ruled the cause of the fire as accidental and attributed it to the spontaneous combustion of laundered, cooking oil-saturated cleaning rags, a scenario deemed fairly common in restaurants.
“This phenomenon is unfortunately a common occurrence in commercial kitchens,” said Hartley. We often see fires that begin due to cleaning towels that have soaked up vegetable-based cooking oils and spontaneously ignite, even after being properly washed and dried.”
As a result, the Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office is encouraging restaurant employees to minimize the likelihood of a spontaneous ignition incident by ensuring dryer cooling and tumbling cycles are utilized, towels are spread out to minimize pile sizes and also by storing clean and dirty towels in non-combustible hampers or other containers.