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Cause Announced in Diner Fire

Lebanon — The fire at The Fort restaurant Saturday night was ignited after holiday decorations were stored too close to a compressor, according to officials.

Lebanon Fire Capt. Jim Wheatley said the fire was caused by the “combustible materials,” which restaurant owner Bob Hazlett identified as holiday decorations .

On Sunday, waitress Jillian Rice said the only decorations that survived were the Easter decorations — the ones already decking the walls in the restaurant, a 24-hour diner.

Wheatley said the fire was not suspicious. He was among the dozens of firefighters who responded to the blaze around 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Jiffy Mart gas station, which houses The Fort, and the restaurant both reopened within a couple hours of the fire Saturday night. Nobody was injured, and the main part of the building, which comprises the restaurant and convenience store, was not damaged.

As of Monday afternoon, Hazlett said he had not yet learned the official cause of the fire and did not have a firm estimate for the amount of damage that it had done, but guessed it would be “upwards of $20,000.”

Hazlett said all four compressors, which run the restaurant’s freezers and coolers, were lost in the blaze. The Fort’s food supplier, Reinhart Food Service of Burlington, provided a freezer truck for the short-term, Hazlett said.

Hazlett said he was overwhelmed by the amount of support and concern people had shown for the restaurant. Staff members had seen Facebook posts declaring that The Fort had burned down with condolences such as “R.I.P.,” Rice said on Sunday.

“I didn’t realize that many people really knew about us,” Hazlett said. “I had a nephew in Burlington that heard about it up in Burlington before I heard about it because he was on Facebook. It’s amazing that it can get out there that fast.

“People were writing in saying what they would do (if The Fort burned down),” he added. “It’s kind of neat, really.”