Fire damages Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria

rdymond@bradenton.comSeptember 30, 2013 

ANNA MARIA -- Cheryl Antonelli, who lives in Arlington, Mass., near Boston, turned on her computer Monday morning to watch a live feed of her vacationing daughter, Tracy, and her family going to breakfast at the Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria.

But Antonelli saw something unexpected via the restaurant's camera.

She saw white smoke billowing from the restaurant's roof, signs of a fire that will likely close the iconic restaurant for two months or more, said West Manatee Fire Rescue Inspector Keith Miller.

"My mom called us from Boston before we even reached the restaurant from our rental on Holmes Beach and told us the Rod & Reel Pier was on fire," said Tracy Antonelli, who is visiting Anna Maria Island with Patrick Mooty and the couple's two daughters, Emmie, 3, and Rosie, 2.

"She saw it happen. She knew it before we did," Antonelli added.

The one-alarm fire Cheryl Antonelli saw, perhaps before anyone else, sent one West Manatee Fire Rescue fire truck, three engines, one battalion and Battalion Chief Rick Losek to the restaurant, which opened Monday at 8 a.m. and was already packed with breakfast customers and fishermen on the pier.

Before the firefighters arrived, Manatee County Sheriff's Office Deputy Gary Sellitto, who was already patrolling at the restaurant, jumped into action, said Miller.

"The officer on scene made sure everyone got out," Miller said. "He deserves some credit."

The cause of the fire, which did an estimated $100,000 in damage, is still under investigation, but Miller said it appears to have been an electrical fire that started between the walls of the upstairs and downstairs kitchens.

"There was smoke showing from the right side of the building, in the back or northeastern corner," Miller said. "We had to cut the walls open. For them to reopen will require a lot of work."

The owner of the Rod & Reel Pier lives in Germany, but the facility is run daily by Dave Cochran, who was on the scene within minutes of the fire.

"We believe it was electrical," Cochran said. "The fire inspector told me there was no open flames on the outside. Everything was between the walls. We will have to close for awhile."

Dave Bouchard, who lives across the street from the pier in a big yellow house, was jolted from sleep at 8:30 a.m. when his 14-year-old son, Will, yelled out, "Dad, there's smoke coming from the pier.'"

"I ran over and saw smoke billowing," Bouchard said.

The restaurant staff at the time of the fire included three cooks, two prep workers and two servers, Cochran said.

Tracy Antonelli comes to Anna Maria Island every September or October for a vacation and her family eats nearly every dinner and breakfast at Rod & Reel Pier.

"We have eaten here every night," Antonelli said. "In fact, we were the last ones to leave Sunday night. We're super-bummed. Even our t3-year old said, 'Momma, where will we eat now?' "

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