MANATEE -- John Leibowitz and his wife, Man Chan, were driving on Cortez Road around 4 p.m. Sunday when they suddenly saw black smoke gushing into the sky like a geyser.
"At first we thought it was maybe a car on fire, but the closer we got we saw the Hurricane Grill & Wings was on fire," Leibowitz said. "We pulled into the parking lot and ran to the back of the building to make sure everyone was out, which they were."
The staff of Hurricane Grill & Wings, 6510 Cortez Road, Bradenton, may have saved lives by quickly and efficiently getting all the customers out of the restaurant after it caught fire shortly before 4 p.m., said Tim Geer, a battalion chief with the Bradenton Fire Department.
The flames that ended up engulfing 30 percent of the inside of the building most likely started in the kitchen area, Geer added.
"The business was occupied, and they were busy cooking, under normal operation when the fire started," Geer said at 5 p.m. as he began clearing units from the scene with the fire under control.
"It appears the fire originated in the kitchen or in that corner of the building," Geer added. "The occupants activated the fire alarm, and it worked properly and everyone exited the building."
Geer did not immediately know how many customers were in the building when the fire broke out.
No customers, staff or firefighters were injured, Geer said.
"I haven't been inside to look, but from what my crews have said probably about 30 percent of the building and a good bit of the attic around that cooking area," Geer said. "I am sure they have a good bit of damage inside."
"I would say the building is salvageable," Geer added.
"We do have our fire investigation team on site as well as our fire marshal," Geer said.
Images posted to Facebook show flames shooting and black smoke billowing from the roof of the single-story restaurant building.
"The fire did go two alarms," Geer said. "But we were able to bring the fire under control quickly."
The Bradenton location opened on June 1, 2015, the 20th anniversary of the national chain's founding in Fort Pierce. The company, headquartered in West Palm Beach, has about 80 locations open or under construction in 14 other states including Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Minnesota, Maryland, Alabama, Texas and California, according to its website.
The Bradenton Fire Department supplied seven apparatus for the fire, one command vehicle and two engines from other fire department as well as another battalion chief, Geer said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.