WEST OCEAN CITY — The future of the popular Waterman’s Seafood Company building remains in doubt this week after a commercial fire at the popular West Ocean City restaurant caused an evacuation of guests and employees and closed Route 50 in both directions for several hours last Friday.
The commercial fire at the Waterman’s Seafood Company last Friday originated in a second-floor attic area and was caused by a faulty electrical circuit, the Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office announced on Tuesday. From Route 50, the historic building appears to be largely intact with little visible damage, but the scars from the blaze can be clearly observed on the roof area and the rear areas of the building, making a demolition and rebuild a distinct possibility.
“That decision hasn’t been made yet,” said Waterman’s assistant manager Jessica Bradshaw. “There is a lot of damage with charring on the second floor and smoke and water damage throughout the restaurant. The goal is to be up and running by the spring regardless of whether we renovate or rebuild.”
The fire was reported around 6:45 p.m. on Friday and first-arriving units from the Ocean City Fire Department reported fire extending from the roof area of the two-and-a-half story landmark restaurant, which was open and crowded at the height of the dinner rush on a busy Friday evening. The evacuation was orderly, if not all that fast, according to a source at the scene, but employees and guests got out and no one was injured.
In the aftermath, the restaurant’s tables were still covered with drinks and food left behind by the evacuated guests including piles of steamed crabs. One of the restaurant’s owners was reportedly in the facility at the time enjoying steamed crabs with friends.
The Ocean City Fire Department was assisted at the scene by crews from Berlin, Showell, Ocean Pines and Bishopville. Route 50 was completely shut down for about four hours in both directions from Route 611 to Route 707 as fire crews set up a water supply accessing hydrants on the south side of the highway. As a result, heavy Friday night traffic was diverted in and around Route 707 and other side streets in the West Ocean City causing major back-ups.
Firefighters remained on scene for about four hours suppressing the fire and conducting overhaul operations. While the initial fire was extinguished fairly quickly, thick smoke continued to pour from the building as crews looked for the source. Smoke reportedly filled in the spaces behind walls and in the attic. Firefighters spent several hours on the roof, cutting holes in the exterior surfaces with chainsaws in an effort to discover the source.
According to a Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office release on Tuesday, the fire originated in a second-floor attic area and was caused by a faulty electrical circuit. Sources at the scene reported an acrid electrical smell was detected in the facility before the fire was reported and that an electrician had been called. The Fire Marshal’s Office said in a statement on Tuesday the fire remains under investigation.
Meanwhile, the restaurant’s owners and employees continued to pick up the pieces and move on this week. In a prepared statement, the restaurant owners thanked the emergency responders.
“Our staff and families would like to extend our most heartfelt thanks to all of the local volunteers, fire departments, police and ems teams who came to our aid last night,” the statement reads. “We would also like to let all of our friends and loyal customers know how much your overwhelming concern and willingness to help us in any way possible is appreciated.”
The extent of the damage is not known, but the restaurant owners in the statement alluded to a long recovery period.
“We have a long road ahead of us and the damage is extensive,” the statement reads. “Everyone is safe and that’s what is most important. We love all of you and thank you again so very much. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.”
Bradshaw said there were potential fundraisers in the works to assist the displaced employees although no details are yet available.