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Published: Tuesday, 6/13/2006

Hot pita blamed in Oasis factory blaze

Oasis Mediterranean Cuisine could be operating in a week if the back of the North Toledo business can be sealed up after it was damaged by a two-alarm fire yesterday that was started by a hot load of pita bread.

"We're already working it," Tony Obeid, the general manager, said hours after fire officials said the blaze caused at least $150,000 damage.

Officials said the fire at the one-story factory, 1520 Laskey Rd., was reported about 12:30 a.m. It began in the rear of the building where bread is processed and cooled, Investigator Michael Smith said.

He said employees stopped working Sunday evening and that no one was at the factory at the time of the fire. Police said Teledyne security called 911 and reported seeing a large fire at an unknown location behind its building.

The fire was trapped in the ceiling between a steel roof and a wooden roof. Firefighters had a hard time locating the blaze and had to make long cuts in the outer roof to find it, Mr. Smith said.

The business, owned by Francois Hashem, employs about 100 and manufactures foods that are distributed to stores, hotels, restaurants, and other locations throughout the United States. Items include hummus, pita chips, pita bread, salads, and other prepared foods.

Mr. Obeid said he received four phone calls about 12:40 a.m., but only answered the last one. It was a former employee who said the business was on fire.

Mr. Obeid was stunned by what he saw when he arrived.

"I watched our building go up in flames," he said. "[The firefighters] did a good job of keeping it contained in the area. There was smoke but no flames until they cut off the top part of the roof."

Mr. Obeid said the damage could be as much as $500,000 to $750,000.

He said products were "pretty much gone" except for raw materials stored in a separate building next door.

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