Plaza Lanes Fire Ruled Accidental; Kitchen Rags Ignited Blaze

DES MOINES, Iowa  -–  Investigators have determined the cause of a massive fire that destroyed Plaza Lanes back in December.

The Des Moines Fire Department and the Des Moines Police Department, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, have wrapped up their investigation into the fire and say it was accidental.

Des Moines Fire Department Public Information Officer Brian O'Keefe said the fire was caused by a bucket of self-heating kitchen rags that spontaneously combusted.

"Typically it occurs where the business has the employees wash and dry the towels, small kitchen, typically cotton towels, in the business. And depending on their work load or scheduling, they pile them up, whether it's in a bucket or a large pile on a table. And over time the oxidation, where it's breaking down the oils within the towel, it will produce sufficient heat to where I've seen it burn through wood tables, plastic tables, bus tubes, you name it. It will produce enough heat and, which, obviously in this case, ignite," O'Keefe said.

Plaza Lanes Owner Randy Thompson said they'd had issues with this before.

"We do have a procedure on what to do with our clean rags as they get done out of our dryers. They're not to be put together. They're to be separated, cooled, and then folded. And that was not done that night. The cook was in a hurry to get out," Thompson said.

Now that they know exactly what happened, they've changed the way the rags are handled.

"Instead of even trying to do it ourselves anymore, we've gone to a towel service from a couple of companies here in Des Moines, which do a great job. We've got our own towel service and they just deliver towels to us so that doesn't happen again," Thompson said.

The fire started in the early morning hours of December 18th, 2017, and the inferno consumed the building.

Thompson said it still breaks his heart that it's gone.

"It's very saddening to go up Douglas Avenue and see the Plaza Lanes site, and we're hoping to get back just as soon as we can. But we've got to get all the insurance claims settled first," Thompson said.

The Thompson family built Plaza Lanes in 1957 and added a restaurant and sand volleyball courts several years later.

"I like being part of a family. Not only a family business, but the bowlers are our family," Thompson said. "The customers who come in with their kids are our family."

Thompson hopes to start rebuilding in August and open in 2019.