A roof fire at a popular Mexican restaurant in South Omaha over the lunch hour Thursday forced the evacuation of 35 people.
No injuries were reported, Assistant Fire Chief Dan Stolinski said, but 20 diners and workers were forced out of the Taqueria Tijuana on the northeast corner of 24th and Q Streets and 15 were evacuated from the neighboring Thrift World to the north.
Omaha police blocked streets in the area, including Q and 24th, while firefighters tended to the blaze.
Damage appeared to be minimal, and Stolinski said grease from a vent may have caused the fire that was mainly contained to the restaurant's roof.
He said a fire crew that was conducting an inspection at a nearby building spotted flames on the restaurant's roof. He said most of the restaurant's occupants didn't realize that a fire was burning above them because of a false ceiling.
The crew spotting the fire “probably saved the roof,'' Stolinski said. “They probably saved the owner a lot of money.''
“The companies, these neighborhood fire stations really know their areas,'' said of the crew.
A restaurant worker, Carlos Xoquic, 26, said he was “afraid I might die.'' He said through a 10-year-old interpreter, Alexis Castillo, that he escaped before firefighters evacuated the building.
Alexis said he and some friends from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Omaha on South 22nd Street were headed to a nearby library when they spotted the flames.
“We were walking to the library,'' Alexis said, “and our teacher told us to go back. She got scared.''