New evidence reopens investigation of fire at Phin Sushi and Steak in Bellevue


BELLEVUE, Wis. (WFRV) State fire departments are being warned after two fires at Madison restaurants were sparked by the spontaneous combustion of an ingredient used to make sushi. More on the alert and its impact on a recent fire at a Bellevue restaurant.

Phin Sushi and Steak has been closed since early January – after catching fire. The cause of the blaze was ruled undetermined. But now Bellevue’s fire chief says investigators are about to take another look.

“We will reopen, reopen the case and look at it,” said Chief Jack Mlnarik. 

Chief Mlnarik says the case is getting a second look because of information coming from the Madison Fire Department. It has determined two fires at two separate sushi restaurants there were caused by the spontaneous combustion of deep-fried tempura flakes. It is an ingredient used to add crunch to sushi rolls.

“It’s made with vegetable oil and flour. That particular product when they try to cool it starts to biodegrade, generates heat and it can spontaneously combust,” said De Pere Fire Chief Alan Matzke.

As footage from inside this Madison restaurant showed investigators, with a fire starting in a metal bowl of deep-fried tempura flakes left out overnight.

“That’s a phenomenon that obviously does occur, but one I’ve never heard of and I don’t think too many people in the fire service have heard of causing things out of food,” said Mlnarik. 

Because of that Madison Fire Department is alerting departments across the state, hoping to prevent future fires.  And area departments are taking notice.

“This is on the radar, something for everyone to think about,” said Chief Matzke.

And Bellevue Fire Department is now reopening the Phin Sushi case  – taking a fresh look based on new evidence.

“We’ll have some fires that are undetermined, unless evidence would present itself down the road and that is exactly what the case is here,” said Mlnarik.

Madison Fire Department investigators say they have also learned to two other cases like this outside of Wisconsin.

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