A firefighter was injured early Tuesday in an intense fire that gutted a Pleasant Hill restaurant for the second time in nearly as many years, the Contra Costa Fire District reported.

El Tapatio, a family-operated Mexican restaurant on Golf Club Road near Contra Costa Boulevard, needed an entire year to rebuild after a similar fire destroyed the business in December 2006. One of the owners wasn't so sure about trying a second time.

"The last time, I was 100 percent sure we were going to rebuild," said Ramon Velasco, a Concord resident who has run the restaurant with his father since 1985. "This time, I don't know if I have it in me."

The two-alarm fire was reported by a patrol officer about 1:30 a.m., said Battalion Chief Dave George. When a crew of more than 30 firefighters arrived, the fire had been burning for at least three hours, he said.

"This fire had its teeth deep in this building by the time crews got involved," George said.

At some point during the effort, a firefighter charged with supervising the safety of personnel inside the building fell to the ground face-first, losing consciousness, George said. The 12-year fire district veteran was taken to a hospital where he regained consciousness and is steadily improving, said spokeswoman Emily Hopkins.

George said an investigation is under way to determine how he was hurt. No one was inside the restaurant when the fire started and no other injuries were reported.


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It took about two more hours to control the fire, which started in the kitchen, George said. A preliminary investigation points to an electrical cause and so far it has been deemed accidental. The fire caused $1 million to $1.5 million in damage.

The restaurant was the scene of a similar accidental fire on Dec. 20, 2006, George said. Although the official cause of that fire is unknown, Velasco suspects faulty wiring.

"It was an almost identical area," George said. "It's hard to say lightning strikes twice, but that is exactly what happened."

A half-dozen adjacent businesses were spared serious damage, George said. Merchants, including a paint store, hair salon and coffee shop, could be seen opening for the day as work crews removed charred debris from the restaurant.

Velasco spent the morning informing family, friends and employees about the fire. They had been preparing for upcoming Cinco de Mayo festivities, which has traditionally been a boon for the restaurant. For now, thoughts revolve around whether the business will stick around.

"We're going to take a couple of weeks to regroup and figure out what to do," Velasco said.

Robert Salonga covers public safety. Reach him at 925-943-8013 or rsalonga@bayareanewsgroup.com.