Air conditioning unit catching fire causes a disruption at The Village

Natalie Tress

Nervously waiting in the parking lot, mall customers and employees witnessed the Central Marin Fire Department tend to the fire coming from the roof of Boca Pizzeria. Photo Courtesy of Michelle McKechnie.

On Thursday, Feb. 24, at approximately 12:45 p.m., an air-conditioning unit caught fire on the roof of Boca Pizzeria at The Village Shopping Center, resulting in an evacuation. The fire lasted roughly one and a half hours and most of the surrounding stores opened back up shortly after it was put out. Employees and customers who had evacuated anxiously gathered in the Restoration Hardware parking lot, as plumes of black smoke rose from the roof of Boca Pizzaria. Mall-goer and Redwood parent Michelle McKechnie arrived at the mall after the fire had already started. 

“I started to smell that tar smell when people are tarring their roofs,” McKechnie said. “So I thought they were just tarring the roof here, but then it just became a little bit overwhelming.”

Due to the vast amount of smoke that was filling the air, many customers and employees, including the general manager of Boca Pizzaria, Jhuan Paul (JP) DeVere, called 911 to report the incident. DeVere also attempted to reassure his customers as he made sure everyone had safely exited the building while the fire was put out. 

After the air-conditioning unit fire was put out, Boca Pizzeria general manager went to the roof to assess the damage. Photo Courtesy of JP DeVere.

“I went to each table and said ‘Don’t worry about the bill or your meal, everything is taken care of. We just have to slowly get out of the restaurant, go to the parking lot and I will let you know what’s going on later,’” DeVere said.

To ensure the well-being of his staff, DeVere counted to make sure everyone was gathered outside in the parking lot. 

“I realized the owner and chef, Sam, was still upstairs on the computer. At that point, I ran inside, ran up the stairs yelling that ‘the building is on fire and we have to go.’ So he’s panicking as we run outside, and then the next thing we know there are about 15 fire trucks,” DeVere said.

Several Marin fire departments were quick to the scene and efficiently put out the fire. Property Manager Stan Hoffman explains that the number of fire trucks and smoke exacerbated the panic and that the fire itself was very trivial. 

“The air conditioning unit, which belongs to one of our tenants, needs to be replaced. The roof needs to be cleaned up and some new roofing material put down, but other than that, the damage was minimal,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman, along with other employees and customers, was very grateful for the quick response of the fire departments. 

Climbing to the roof of Boca Pizzeria, Kentfield firefighters quickly put out the fire that had started. Photo Courtesy of Central Marin Fire Department Facebook.

“We were very appreciative of all of the different fire departments in Marin that showed up,” Hoffman said. “We didn’t know the extent of the problem until a fire department got here, and once the fire department determined it was just the air condition unit and they put it out, everything went back to normal.”

Boca Pizzeria had to close for the remainder of the day to assess a small hole in the wall and water damage in the kitchen of the restaurant. DeVere stayed late into the night making sure all safety precautions were met, including turning off the gas and electricity and contacting PG&E. 

“Even with the damage, we were able to open [Friday, Feb. 25.]. I came back with the health inspector at 9:00 AM; we [mopped up the water], cleaned it all up, put the fan in the kitchen and they gave us the approval to reopen,” DeVere said. “So we are open again, but it was quite an adventurous day.”